Trump Attempts To Bribe Ukraine President To Investigate Biden’s Son (#GotBitcoin?)
U.S. president didn’t mention foreign aid on July call with Volodymyr Zelensky. Trump Attempts To Bribe Ukraine President To Investigate Biden’s Son (#GotBitcoin?)
President Trump in a July phone call repeatedly pressured the president of Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden ’s son, urging Volodymyr Zelensky about eight times to work with Rudy Giuliani, his personal lawyer, on a probe, according to people familiar with the matter.
Mr. Giuliani in June and August met with top Ukrainian officials about the prospect of an investigation, he said in an interview. The Trump lawyer has suggested Mr. Biden as vice president worked to shield from investigation a Ukrainian gas company with ties to his son, Hunter Biden. A Ukrainian official earlier this year said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Biden or his son.
After the July call between the two presidents, the Ukrainian government said Mr. Trump had congratulated the new president on his election and expressed hope that his government would push ahead with investigations and corruption probes that had stymied relations between the two countries.
The White House declined to comment. The Biden campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment. Last week, a Biden campaign spokesman said of Mr. Giuliani’s efforts to pressure Ukraine: “This is beneath us as Americans.”
Mr. Trump on Friday defended his July call with Mr. Zelensky as “totally appropriate” but declined to say whether he had asked the Ukrainian leader to investigate Mr. Biden, a former U.S. vice president. “It doesn’t matter what I discussed,” he said.
At the same time, he reiterated his call for an investigation into Mr. Biden’s effort as vice president to oust Ukraine’s prosecutor general. “Somebody ought to look into that,” he told reporters.
In recent months, Mr. Giuliani has mounted an extensive effort to pressure Ukraine to do so. He told The Wall Street Journal he met with an official from the Ukrainian prosecutor general’s office in June in Paris, and met with Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Mr. Zelensky in Madrid in August. Mr. Giuliani told the Journal earlier this month that Mr. Yermak assured him the Ukrainian government would “get to the bottom” of the Biden matter.
The August meeting came weeks before the Trump administration began reviewing the status of $250 million in foreign aid to Ukraine, which the administration released earlier this month. Mr. Giuliani said he wasn’t aware of the issue with the funds to Ukraine at the time of the meeting.
He said his meeting with Mr. Yermak was set up by the State Department, and said he briefed the department on their conversation later. The State Department had no immediate comment.
The interactions between the president, Mr. Giuliani and Ukraine have come under scrutiny in recent days in the wake of a whistleblower complaint that a person familiar with the matter said involves the president’s communications with a foreign leader. The complaint, which the Washington Post reported centers on Ukraine, has prompted a new standoff between Congress and the executive branch.
Separately, lawmakers have been investigating whether the president or his lawyer sought to pressure the Ukrainian government to pursue probes in an effort to benefit Mr. Trump’s re-election bid.
Whistleblower Complaint Involves Trump Communication With Foreign Leader
Details emerge of complaint that led to standoff between intelligence director and Democrats.
A whistleblower complaint that has prompted a standoff between the U.S. intelligence community and Democrats in Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, a person familiar with the matter said.
It couldn’t be determined which foreign leader the complaint says Mr. Trump engaged in a conversation with.
The House Intelligence Committee has been gripped in an unusual legal battle with the acting director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, over the complaint. The intelligence community’s inspector general has deemed the complaint a matter of urgent concern, according to the Democratic chairman of the committee, Adam Schiff.
Mr. Trump disputed that he had said anything inappropriate in a call with a foreign leader.
“Virtually anytime I speak on the phone to a foreign leader, I understand that there may be many people listening from various U.S. agencies, not to mention those from the other country itself. No problem!” he tweeted on Thursday. “Knowing all of this, is anybody dumb enough to believe that I would say something inappropriate with a foreign leader while on such a potentially “heavily populated” call. I would only do what is right anyway, and only do good for the USA!”
The White House declined to comment on the whistleblower complaint on Thursday. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The substance of the complaint was previously reported by the Washington Post.
Mr. Schiff issued a subpoena last week to Mr. Maguire regarding the complaint while suggesting the issues divulged by the complainant were being withheld to protect Mr. Trump or other administration officials.
Mr. Maguire initially appeared to rebuff the subpoena but Mr. Schiff said late Wednesday he had agreed to testify in an open hearing next week.
The inspector general of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Michael Atkinson, a Trump appointee, met Thursday morning with the committee in a closed session.
Mr. Atkinson’s urgency in dealing with the whistleblower complaint, which his office received on Aug. 12, was undercut by a determination by the office’s general counsel that the complaint concerned conduct by someone outside the intelligence community, and as a result didn’t rise to the level of an “urgent concern” that by law would require the complaint be transmitted to Congress.
But Mr. Atkinson “determined that this complaint is both credible and urgent, and that it should be transmitted to Congress under the clear letter of the law,” Mr. Schiff said Wednesday. “The committee places the highest importance on the protection of whistleblowers and their complaints to Congress.”
The Senate Intelligence Committee is also expected to be briefed by Messrs. Maguire and Atkinson next week and is working on finding the “appropriate forum” for the complaint, a committee spokeswoman.
“There is a very specific process in place for IC whistleblower complaints because they deal with classified and sensitive information,” she said. “If there’s genuine uncertainty about where a complaint falls in that process, we have to address it. But it should never be negotiated in the media.”
Former national security officials said it was extremely unlikely that details of a president’s conversation would have circulated as a result of U.S. intelligence agencies listening to a direct phone call between the president and a world leader. Other more plausible scenarios could have prompted the whistleblower complaint, they said.
“If the president was accidentally picked up on a phone call, [U.S. intelligence analysts] would throw the headphones down immediately and purge the transcript,” a former senior intelligence official said.
White House National Security Council staff typically listen to presidential calls with other heads of state and maintain transcripts and contemporaneous handwritten notes, which are tightly controlled but usually disseminated to relevant cabinet secretaries and other senior personnel, former officials said.
Due to previous leaks of his calls with foreign leaders, however, the Trump White House has sought to limit access to such memorandums.
Still, former officials pointed to those types of files as the likely source of the substance on which the complaint originated. “It could be that the whistleblower was on the receiving end of that transcript, or it was passed on into their possession,” said Ned Price, a former NSC official during the Obama administration.
Mr. Trump had a number of conversations with foreign leaders in the weeks leading up to the filing of the whistleblower complaint, including a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on July 31.
Mr. Trump also received letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un over the summer and has held meetings with the leaders of Pakistan, Qatar and the Netherlands.
Mr. Trump traveled to Japan in June for the Group of 20 summit, where he met with world leaders including Mr. Putin, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. During the trip he had an impromptu meeting with Mr. Kim at the border between North Korea and South Korea.
Trump Says He Discussed Biden In Call With Ukraine’s President
Democrats revive talk of impeachment amid standoff over whistleblower complaint.
President Trump appeared to confirm for the first time that he discussed former Vice President Joe Biden and his son on a July call with Ukraine’s president, as some senior Democrats revived talk of impeachment hearings over reports that the president asked a foreign government to undertake a probe designed to damage his potential opponent in the 2020 election.
Mr. Trump, speaking to reporters Sunday, suggested that in the July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky he characterized Mr. Biden’s anticorruption push in Ukraine while he was vice president as itself corrupt because Mr. Biden’s son had business interests in the country. On Friday, Mr. Trump declined to say what the two leaders had discussed, saying, “It doesn’t matter.”
“The conversation I had was largely congratulatory, was largely corruption—all of the corruption taking place, was largely the fact that we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son [contributing] to the corruption already in the Ukraine,” Mr. Trump said Sunday before leaving on a trip to Houston.
The president’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has suggested Mr. Biden’s pressure on Ukraine was motivated by an investigation by a government official of a gas company for which his son Hunter was a director. Mr. Biden, as vice president, did call for the ouster of a former Ukrainian prosecutor general, but his call was part of a broader effort by Ukrainian anticorruption investigators, European diplomats, U.S. allies and the U.S. State Department to overhaul a prosecutor’s office that was widely viewed as corrupt. A Ukrainian official this year said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Joe or Hunter Biden.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Mr. Trump repeatedly pressured his Ukrainian counterpart during the call to work with Mr. Giuliani on a Biden probe, according to people familiar with the matter. Those revelations came amid an escalating standoff between Democratic lawmakers and the Trump administration over a whistleblower complaint about Mr. Trump’s communications with a foreign leader that may involve the Ukraine call.
Mr. Biden told reporters in Des Moines on Saturday that he had never discussed with his son any overseas business dealings and called for Mr. Trump to be investigated. “He’s using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me,” Mr. Biden said.
As more details emerge about the July call between Messrs. Trump and Zelenky, Democrats in Congress and on the 2020 campaign trail pressed anew to begin impeachment proceedings.
“Congress failed to act and now Donald Trump has shown that he believes he is above the law,” Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said Saturday in Iowa. “He has solicited another foreign government to attack our election system. It is time for us to call out this illegal behavior and start impeachment proceedings right now.”
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a close ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), said that impeachment “may be the only remedy” if Mr. Trump was found to have courted foreign intervention in the 2020 election.
“We may very well have crossed the Rubicon here,” Mr. Schiff said in an interview on CNN. “This would be, I think, the most profound violation of the presidential oath of office during this presidency, which says a lot, but perhaps during just about any presidency,” Mr. Schiff added, while calling on the president to release both a transcript of the Ukraine call and the whistleblower complaint.
Mrs. Pelosi, however, has been reluctant to open an impeachment inquiry. In a letter to her House colleagues on Sunday, Mrs. Pelosi appeared to inch closer to such an inquiry as she called for the director of national intelligence to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the House Intelligence Committee. “If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation,” she wrote.
Republicans in Congress have largely been quiet about Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky. Speaking to NBC on Sunday, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.), said it was “not appropriate for any candidate for federal office, certainly including a sitting president, to ask for assistance from a foreign country.” Mr. Toomey quickly added: “But I don’t know that’s what happened here.”
The scrutiny of Mr. Trump’s dealings with his Ukrainian counterpart is likely to escalate this week as Congress continues to probe the whistleblower complaint that was submitted last month to the inspector general of the intelligence community, who deemed it a significant matter of “urgent concern.”
Federal whistleblowing law generally dictates that such a complaint should be sent to the congressional intelligence committees, but the acting Director of National Intelligence, Joseph Maguire, has refused to do so.
Mr. Maguire is to appear this week before both the Senate and House intelligence committees, where he will be asked about his decision not to share the complaint.
Trump, Giuliani Security & Safety, Giuliani Partners And The Ukrainian Bribery Scandal
Giuliani Sits at the Center of the Ukraine Controversy
Mr. Giuliani attempted to extract roughly a $300,000 fee from boxer Vitali Klitschko, (who became mayor of Kyiv in 2014) known as “Dr. Iron Fist,” which was too steep, and the deal was terminated.
Mr. Giuliani has met with foreign leaders including the king of Bahrain. Last year, he wrote to the president of Romania to criticize the country’s anticorruption investigations, according to a copy of the letter released by Senate Democrats. His position in the letter is counter to that of the State Department.
Mr. Giuliani said at the time that he was working on behalf of his security company, Giuliani Security & Safety, which had been retained by a security company run by former Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Louis J. Freeh.
Mr. Giuliani’s role as Mr. Trump’s lawyer, opposition-research investigator and frequent defender on television is the latest incarnation for the former associate attorney general and U.S. attorney who became a global figure as mayor of New York when terrorists attacked the city on Sept. 11, 2001. After that, he threw himself into the world of global consulting, starting a management-consulting firm called Giuliani Partners in 2002.
In 2008, he sought to re-enter politics with a failed presidential campaign, during which he drew criticism for his business activities, including his efforts on behalf of Mexico City and a state-owned firm in Qatar.
Ukrainian officials saw him as a direct conduit to Trump; former New York mayor featured in whistleblower complaint.
A key figure at the heart of the burgeoning impeachment probe is former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who as personal attorney to President Trump pressed Ukraine on pursuing an investigation of one of his boss’s political rivals.
A whistleblower complaint released Thursday depicts Mr. Giuliani, 75 years old, as eager to thrust himself into U.S. foreign policy. In some instances, he acted on his own, and in others his actions were in conjunction with U.S. government officials.
Ukrainians seeking influence in Washington viewed him as a direct conduit to Mr. Trump. And when Mr. Giuliani’s actions were in conflict with the U.S. government’s national-security and foreign-policy apparatus, it was unable and at times unwilling to deter him. Some senior government officials knew little, if anything, of his work.
“My only knowledge of what Mr. Giuliani does—I have to be honest with you—I get from the TV or the news media,” said Joseph Maguire, acting director of national intelligence, in testifying before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday about the complaint. “I’m not aware of what he does for the president.”
Mr. Giuliani’s efforts, however, were blessed by Mr. Trump. Mr. Giuliani has said a handful of his dealings with Ukrainian officials were initiated by the State Department. In July, Mr. Giuliani, a former mayor of New York, received a text message from Kurt Volker, the U.S. government’s special representative to Ukraine. In the message, which Mr. Giuliani provided to The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Volker offered to introduce Mr. Giuliani to a senior adviser to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“Mr. Mayor—really enjoyed breakfast this morning,” Mr. Volker texted to Mr. Giuliani on July 19. “As discussed, connecting you here with Andrey Yermak, who is very close to President Zelensky.” He suggested a three-way call the next week.
Mr. Volker, a former U.S. ambassador to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, has served as an unpaid volunteer in the Ukraine post since 2017. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
A State Department spokesman confirmed that Mr. Volker, at Mr. Yermak’s request, put Mr. Yermak in touch with Mr. Giuliani. “Mr. Giuliani is a private citizen and acts in a personal capacity as a lawyer for President Trump,” the spokesman said. “He does not speak on behalf of the U.S. Government.”
Six days after the text, President Trump in a phone call pressed Mr. Zelensky to pursue investigations, including a probe into the activities of former vice president and current Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. During the call, Mr. Trump repeatedly said Mr. Zelensky should connect with Mr. Giuliani and Attorney General William Barr, according to a record of the call released by the White House Wednesday. Mr. Trump has defended the phone call as “perfect.”
Shortly after the July 25 call, Mr. Giuliani and Mr. Yermak met in person in Madrid. In an interview Thursday, Mr. Giuliani said that he subsequently briefed the State Department and that Mr. Volker texted him: “Thank you very much for your help.”
Mr. Trump has characterized the impeachment probe as a “witch hunt” by his enemies in Washington.
Mr. Yermak declined to comment through an intermediary.
In Ukraine, Mr. Giuliani is viewed as something of a celebrity. “Giuliani has long been seen as an extension of Trump, some mythical link to the U.S.,” said Nickolay Kapitonenko, an adviser to the Ukrainian Parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee. “So many officials think that contact or even a picture with Giuliani might be helpful for their careers. I’m not sure that’s the case but that’s the perception.”
In Washington, officials took a less rosy view of the president’s lawyer. Months earlier, in mid-May, multiple U.S. officials told the whistleblower that they were “deeply concerned” by Mr. Giuliani’s flouting of national-security protocols and that State Department officials including Mr. Volker had talked to Mr. Giuliani to “contain the damage” to U.S. national security, according to the complaint. Those officials also met with Ukrainian officials to help them “understand and respond to” the conflicting messages they were receiving from official U.S. channels and Mr. Giuliani, according to the complaint.
Mr. Giuliani in Thursday’s interview called the complaint “really ridiculous” and said he was baffled by the allegation that the State Department was upset with him over his work in Ukraine. “If they were worried about me, they did something very reckless,” he said. “They took this crazy maniac who’s interfering in foreign politics” and arranged a meeting with a top aide to the Ukrainian president, he said, referring to the text message from Mr. Volker.
Mr. Giuliani’s involvement in the Ukraine issue and his frequent appearances on cable news have grated on some in the White House, according to aides, who have said privately they feel he has made the situation for the president worse.
At least for now, Mr. Trump remains enamored with Mr. Giuliani, people close to the president said. Mr. Trump has frequently praised his lawyer in public and in private for his loyalty and commitment to uncovering what both men believe is inappropriate behavior by Mr. Biden, who hasn’t been accused of wrongdoing. One administration official said it was unlikely that Mr. Trump’s allies would even try to convince the president to cut ties with Mr. Giuliani because of the two men’s tight bond.
White House aides over the past year have grown accustomed to—if not comfortable with—the close relationship between the two men. Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani typically meet at the White House alone, aides say. Their meetings—like many with Mr. Trump’s close friends—are rarely on the president’s schedule that is circulated among aides.
While serving as the president’s lawyer, a role for which he doesn’t draw a paycheck, Mr. Giuliani has also drawn scrutiny for his frequent trips abroad, where foreign officials say they have been uncertain whether he is speaking for himself or as a U.S. government representative.
His work with Ukraine began shortly after folding his campaign, when he announced he would serve as a strategic adviser to help boxer Vitali Klitschko, known as “Dr. Iron Fist,” root out corruption and win election as the mayor of Kyiv. Mr. Klitschko lost that election but became mayor in 2014 and remains in that post.
After the protests that took place in Kyiv in 2014, Mr. Klitschko negotiated a potential contract for Giuliani Security & Safety to restore order in the city. Mr. Giuliani’s fee, roughly $300,000, was too steep, and the deal wasn’t completed, according to a person who participated in the talks.
Mr. Giuliani didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the scuttled deal.
Mr. Giuliani’s political clout in Ukraine became outsized after Mr. Trump’s election two years later. Mr. Giuliani had advised the president during the campaign and was floated as a possible nominee for attorney general or secretary of state, but ultimately wasn’t tapped for an administration post. In January 2017, Mr. Trump said Mr. Giuliani would serve as an unofficial cybersecurity adviser, “sharing his expertise and insight as a trusted friend.”
When Mr. Giuliani returned to Ukraine for more consulting work that year, Ukrainian television broadcasts alternately referred to him as a private person and as Mr. Trump’s adviser, a description that opened doors to many leading figures.
In June 2017, Mr. Giuliani visited Kyiv and gave a lecture on corruption and democracy. At an event hosted by the foundation of Ukrainian oligarch Victor Pinchuk, Mr. Giuliani met with then-President Petro Poroshenko and then-Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, according to the foundation’s website.
Later that year, Mr. Giuliani visited Kyiv and the eastern city of Kharkov to hold meetings on behalf of his private security business. In Kharkov, the mayor had a row of girls in traditional Ukrainian dress on the airport tarmac meet him and make a traditional offering of bread and salt.
Mr. Giuliani, who in April 2018 began representing the president in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, became a magnet for Ukrainian officials looking to establish connections in Washington.
Mr. Giuliani’s investigation of Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, began in earnest earlier this year, after Mr. Lutsenko visited Mr. Giuliani’s office in New York, according to a person familiar with the matter. Western officials, including the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, had criticized Mr. Lutsenko’s office for being sluggish on reforms.
Mr. Lutsenko told Mr. Giuliani that he thought there were unanswered questions about the role of the younger Biden at Burisma Holdings Ltd., where he had accepted a board seat in 2014. Vice President Biden’s portfolio at the time included pressuring Ukraine to do more to combat corruption.
Messrs. Giuliani and Lutsenko continued their conversation in a nearby bar over whiskey and cigars, the person familiar with the matter said. And the two men met again the next month in Warsaw.
Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment on the meeting, and Mr. Lutsenko declined to comment.
Mr. Giuliani’s desire for a Biden investigation, however, soon ran into a perceived obstacle, according to people familiar with the matter—the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch.
Mr. Giuliani publicly accused her of anti-Trump bias, though he has denied he sought to pressure her ouster, which happened earlier this year when the State Department recalled her to Washington.
In a Fox News interview in May, he expressed relief that “she got fired finally.” In another interview Tuesday on Fox News, he accused her without evidence of being “deeply involved” in a plot by Ukraine to boost Democrats in the 2016 presidential election.
Ms. Yovanovitch, who remains a State Department employee and is a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“She was doing everything by the book, everything was blessed by State Department,” said a senior Ukraine government official who interacted with her.
Meanwhile, Mr. Giuliani’s role as an intermediary between the two countries was allegedly causing concern among multiple U.S. officials, according to the whistleblower complaint. U.S. officials told the whistleblower that Ukrainian officials understood that a meeting or call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky would depend on whether the new Ukrainian president “showed willingness to ‘play ball’” on the matters Mr. Giuliani had raised, according to the complaint. Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In mid-July, a week before his call with Mr. Zelensky, Mr. Trump directed acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to put a hold on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine. Lower-level officials were told of the decision on July 18, the Journal has reported, one day before Mr. Volker reached out to Mr. Giuliani about meeting with Mr. Yermak. The White House has said the aid was put on hold because the president wanted European countries to contribute more to Ukraine. The aid was released this month.
Mr. Giuliani in television appearances over the summer had repeatedly singled out Ukraine over corruption, putting pressure on Mr. Zelensky’s new administration, which won election in April.
In July, Mr. Yermak called Mr. Giuliani to ask him to tone it down, according to a person familiar with the call. Mr. Giuliani in response suggested that Ukraine investigate Hunter Biden’s relationship with Burisma, the person said.
In early August, Mr. Giuliani met in Madrid with Mr. Yermak, in the meeting Mr. Volker had helped arrange. U.S. officials described the meeting to the whistleblower as a “direct followup” to Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky about the “cases” they discussed.
Mr. Giuliani described Mr. Yermak as “very receptive” to their conversation and said he subsequently briefed Mr. Volker on the meeting. A person familiar with the conversation said Mr. Yermak told Mr. Giuliani that the Ukrainian president didn’t want to get embroiled in U.S. politics.
Days later, on Aug. 9, Mr. Trump told reporters of Mr. Zelensky: “He’s a very reasonable guy.”
New York Times Identifies Trump Whistleblower As CIA Officer
The New York Times is claiming the whistleblower behind a complaint made about a phone conversation between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart is a male CIA officer who at one point had been detailed to the White House.
The report, which the Times says was corroborated by three sources, paints the most detailed portrait of the insider to this point, though he has yet to be named publicly.
The Times also reports that, based on the wording of his complaint, the whistleblower likely has extensive knowledge of Ukrainian politics.
The whistleblower came forward in a nine-page complaint — made public Thursday — to allege a White House cover-up of the July phone call in which Trump requested Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky open an investigation into the son of political rival Joe Biden.
The Times defended its decision to publish information on the whistleblower, arguing that the context of the person’s position and expertise lends credibility to his complaint.
Trump’s Attack On Whistle-Blower In Private Meeting Was Caught On Video
President Donald Trump used a closed-door gathering with U.S. diplomats in New York to attack Democratic rival Joe Biden and disparage a whistle-blower complaint over his controversial phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy now at the heart of an impeachment inquiry.
“We’re at war,” Trump said, referring to the whistle-blower in a 15-minute video obtained by Bloomberg News. “These people are sick. They’re sick.”
“I want to know who’s the person, who’s the person who gave the whistle-blower the information? Because that’s close to a spy,” he added. An audio recording of some of the comments was posted online earlier by the Los Angeles Times.
He added what appeared to be a thinly veiled threat: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”
In a tweet on Friday, Trump questioned the whistle-blower’s motives. “A partisan operative?” Trump wrote.
Trump’s address to the U.S. mission to the UN wandered freely from Biden to the 2016 election, from coal miners to the size of Democratic Representative Adam Schiff’s neck: “He’s got a neck about this big,” the president said as he pressed his index finger to his thumb. “He’s got shirts that are too big because you can’t buy shirts that are that small. He was never a coal miner, lets put it that way.”
The White House set up the event, allowed cellphones and cleared the guest list, which included people other than immediate family of U.S. Mission to the United Nations staff.
At one point, Trump said his only predecessor to appear more presidential than he was Abraham Lincoln.
“I’m the most presidential except for possibly Abe Lincoln when he wore the hat. That was tough to beat,” Trump said. But he added: “I have better hair than him.”
Trump repeated his claims that Joe Biden helped his son, Hunter Biden, improperly win millions in dollars in business from Ukraine and China. Those claims have been at the center of the controversy over the president’s call with Zelenskiy in which he implores the Ukrainian leader to investigate the Bidens. He referred to the former vice president as “Sleepy Joe Biden who’s dumb as a rock.”
Trump said he keeps alive the rumors among Democrats and the media that he would disregard presidential term limits because it drives them “crazy.” He also disparaged the media coverage of his meeting in New York on Wednesday with Zelenskiy, and assailed a familiar target, CNN.
“You know these animals in the press. They’re animals. Some of the worst human being you’ll ever meet,” Trump said. “They’re scum. Many of them are scum.”
Earlier: Impeachment Focus Risks Crowding Out Agenda for Trump, Democrats
“Basically, that person never saw the report, never saw the call, he never saw the call, heard something and decided that he or she, or whoever the hell they saw — they’re almost a spy,” Trump said of the whistle-blower.
The president also spoke of his “love” of coal miners and that “we gave them back their jobs.” He joked about how they didn’t want to be retrained for other jobs and weren’t interested in his Manhattan lifestyle.
Trump said he had asked miners whether they wanted to work in technology and “they almost threw up all over the place.”
“Can you imagine miners with massive arms, shoulders — who love what they’re doing — in a line with little tiny widgets?” he added. “They’re putting little tiny computer parts together. These big strong guys? They don’t want to be doing that.”
“If I said, ‘I’m going to give you an apartment on Fifth Avenue, you’re going to come with me, you’re going to have a great time in New York, they would say, ‘No, no thank you.’ That’s just the way it is. That’s their life, that’s what they want.”
Trump also took credit for what he suggested was an improvement in the UN’s performance.
“I’ve always said about the United Nations it has more potential than any institution that I’ve ever dealt with,” Trump said. “It hasn’t lived up to its potential. It’s starting to more. I think one of the reasons is because I feel that way. I will use the United Nations to our benefit as a country.”
“The United Nations is going to finally live up to its potential,” he said.
He told Kelly Craft, the new American ambassador to the U.N., that “You’re going to be a star.” Then he added: “You got to make good deals otherwise it’s over.”
Trump Tries To Bury Whistle-Blower Complaint
The future of American politics may once again depend on the handling of classified information on computer servers.
Only now, it’s not a secretary of state’s rogue email system at issue — it’s the president’s own highly sensitive communications, and just what role White House officials may have played in trying to bury records of those conversations, and for what reason.
Experts are homing in on allegations that the White House used a computer system meant for highly classified information to store details of President Donald Trump’s calls with foreign leaders, in what they described as a stark departure from how the server is normally used and how memos of the president’s exchanges are typically handled.
The revelation, disclosed in a whistleblower complaint deemed an “urgent concern” by the intelligence community’s inspector general, raises the specter of a coverup led by White House lawyers seeking to protect the president — with the obvious parallels to past impeachment scandals. And it has surprised former White House and National Security Council officials who say the NSC’s codeword-level system is specifically designed to protect highly sensitive compartmented intelligence matters.
Those include covert action programs, diplomatically sensitive information and other national security secrets, said Larry Pfeiffer, the former Situation Room senior director under President Barack Obama and CIA chief of staff in the George W. Bush administration. An example, he said, would be “information surrounding the very sensitive negotiations and conversations involving Oman” in the early stages of negotiating the Iran nuclear deal.
“It would never be used to protect or ‘lock down’ politically sensitive material or to protect the president or senior officials from embarrassment,” Pfeiffer said.
A former Trump National Security Council official acknowledged that “it would be unusual to put transcripts in the code word system,” and that “it is probably not done frequently.”
The whistleblower, who is a member of the intelligence community but whose identity remains unknown but, alleged in a complaint filed on August 12 that Trump sought to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “to take actions to help” his 2020 re-election campaign during a phone call on July 25—and that White House officials tried to cover it up.
“I am concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. government’s efforts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections,” the whistleblower wrote.
The Trump-appointed watchdog for the intelligence community conducted a “preliminary review” of the whistleblower’s accusations, which reportedly included witness interviews, and deemed them credible despite the whistleblower not having first-hand knowledge of the incident and “some indicia of an arguable bias in favor of a rival political candidate,” according to a letter released on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the White House released a “memorandum” documenting that conversation, which backs up the allegation that Trump dangled U.S. aid to Ukraine as a carrot for Zelensky’s cooperation in investigating Trump’s political rivals, including former vice president Joe Biden. Trump also tried to get Attorney General William Barr involved, according to the memo.
It’s not clear whether the memo the White House released, which was originally marked “SECRET/ORCON/NOFORN,” is the one the president’s aides were allegedly trying to conceal. It was declassified before its release on the president’s orders.
But the whistleblower alleged that senior White House officials had intervened to “‘lock down’ all records” of that call by removing it from the system where these transcripts are normally stored and uploading it into a separate system “managed directly by the NSC’s Directorate for Intelligence Programs.” They did so because “of the likelihood, in the officials’ retelling, that they had witnessed the president abuse his office for personal gain,” according to the whistleblower.
The White House did not immediately reply to a request for comment on the whistleblower’s allegations, though President Trump has angrily accused Democrats of conducting another “witch hunt” and defended his conversations with Zelensky.
After 2017, when verbatim transcripts of his conversations with the leaders of Australian and Mexico were leaked to the press, the White House began to restrict the number of officials who had access to the transcripts. One former Trump administration official confirmed that the White House started placing transcripts into the codeword system after those leaks.
“I don’t think the person who leaked those was ever really discovered,” said the former Trump administration official. “So there was a decision to tighten the restrictions for those who had access to those transcripts.”
April Doss, who served as senior minority counsel for the Russia investigation on the Senate Intelligence Committee and, prior to that, as a top attorney at the National Security Agency, said the S//OC//NF designation of the memo “seems like a typical level of classification for that kind of call.”
That classification indicates that the disclosure of the call would cause “serious damage” to national security, cannot be disseminated by anyone except the originator, and is prohibited from disclosure to foreign nationals. A code word classification, meanwhile, is top secret—a level higher than secret—and then further compartmentalized by adding a code word so that only those who have been cleared for each code word can see it.
Doss said it would be “highly unusual” for this kind of routine call between world leaders to be placed into a system that’s used for information about the nation’s most highly compartmented programs. “It risks undermining a whole host of important national security activities,” she said, noting that “most if not all” officials who would need to have access to call readouts as part of carrying out their regular duties in advising on foreign affairs and implementing the administration’s policies “would not have access” to the codeword system.
The president has ultimate classification authority and it’s an open legal question whether he’s bound by executive orders, including one signed by Obama in 2009 that says information can’t be classified in order to “conceal violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error” or “prevent embarrassment to a person, organization, or agency.”
But it would be squarely within the whistleblower’s rights, as governed by the 1998 Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act, to sound the alarm over the potential violation of that executive order, Doss said—especially if it was done by the president’s staff. That in turn could at least partly be why the IC IG considered it to be within the intelligence community’s purview, despite the DNI’s determination that it fell outside their jurisdiction.
A former intelligence official who served on Obama’s National Security Council, but who wished to remain anonymous to discuss the NSC’s codeword-level system, agreed that storing a transcript on that system “would severely limit those personnel able to view it.”
While limited in what he could disclose about the system without revealing classified information, the official said, “The bottom line is that if the administration attempted to upload the transcript to that system it would have been to make it nearly impossible to share. The system was not intended for unclassified material.”
He added that he’d “never” seen a presidential transcript stored there. Pfeiffer said that he could not recall ever seeing a transcript stored there, but said it would’ve only been possible if a president’s calls “touched on compartmented matters requiring that protection.”
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire acknowledged in an open hearing before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday that he immediately consulted the White House upon receiving the whistleblower’s complaint from the IC IG—prompting Democrats to grill him on why he would ask for advice from a White House that had already been credibly accused of seeking to conceal the call at the heart of the complaint.
“It’s your business to protect the nation’s secrets,” said Democrat Eric Swalwell. “If there’s cover-up activity because the president is improperly working with a foreign government, that could compromise our nation’s secrets, is that right?”
Maguire replied that the allegation of a coverup had not yet been proven.
The whistleblower said he or she had been told by White House officials that “it was not the first time” under Trump that a presidential transcript was placed into the NSC’s codeword-level system “for the purpose of protecting politically sensitive—rather than national security sensitive—information.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who embraced an official impeachment inquiry earlier this week, accused the White House of engaging in a “cover-up” following Maguire’s testimony.
“We are at a different level of lawlessness that is self-evident to the American people,” Pelosi said, adding, “We have a heightened responsibility to act upon those facts.”
Special Envoy To Ukraine, Kurt Volker, Has Left His State Department Post
Democrats Set Rapid Timetable for Trump Impeachment Probe.
House Democrats have settled on a narrow impeachment inquiry into President Trump centered on his campaign to enlist Ukraine to hurt a political rival, a rapid strategy that will produce hearings within a few weeks and build to a possible vote by November.
That plan was put into action immediately on Friday, when a trio of House committees issued a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for records of interactions between the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and the Ukrainian government.
The Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees, which had requested the material about three weeks ago, also scheduled depositions starting next week with five State Department officials, including Kurt Volker, who late Friday resigned as the special envoy for Ukraine, according to a person familiar with the matter, after playing a role in arranging a meeting between Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and an aide to Ukraine’s president.
Mr. Volker in July introduced Mr. Giuliani to a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Andriy Yermak. The State Department, which has confirmed Mr. Volker introduced Mr. Giuliani to Mr. Yermak but has said Mr. Giuliani was acting in his capacity as a private citizen, didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The Democrats’ approach to the impeachment inquiry involves several committees but puts control into the hands of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and the Intelligence Committee—one of the only panels for which she has handpicked the Democratic members. Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) said Friday that members of his committee would work through the next two weeks, while Congress is officially in recess, and he is planning hearings as soon as next week.
“We’re going to be trying to schedule hearings, witness interviews, subpoenas and document requests. We’ll be busy,” Mr. Schiff said.
The fast action—and discussions about resorting to a little-known congressional power to detain, arrest or fine recalcitrant witnesses—suggests the House could vote on articles of impeachment as soon as late October. The Judiciary Committee, which is traditionally the epicenter of impeachment proceedings, would draft the articles.
The Judiciary panel has been investigating a broader array of behavior by Mr. Trump, including issues raised by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. But Judiciary members haven’t publicly complained about the arrangement that now puts the Intelligence Committee in the driver’s seat, with a tighter focus.
“There is a dictate that momentum will not slow,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D., Conn.), the No. 2 Democrat on the Intelligence committee. “We are determined that momentum will not slow just because members aren’t in town.”
It isn’t yet clear exactly what charge or charges the House might level at the president in its inquiry, which Mrs. Pelosi announced this past week. Some key Democrats have suggested Mr. Trump was guilty of a “corrupt abuse of power”—potential grounds for impeachment—when he repeatedly pressed Mr. Zelensky in a July phone call to work with his lawyer, Mr. Giuliani, and Attorney General William Barr on investigations of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
That conversation came just after Mr. Trump had held up nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, fueling criticism that suspending the aid was another way the president used U.S. foreign policy for personal political gain.
A whistleblower complaint released this week, based on information from multiple U.S. officials, alleges that White House officials worked to conceal evidence of the president’s actions.
Mr. Trump has repeatedly described his call with the Ukrainian president as “perfect” and dismissed the investigation on Twitter as a “Democrat Scam.” His Republican allies have made the case that a rough transcript of the call released by the White House shows no explicit demand for a probe in return for the aid.
In a significant escalation of the political messaging around the controversy, Mr. Trump’s campaign said Friday it was spending $10 million along with the Republican National Committee on a TV ad highlighting Mr. Biden’s past efforts in Ukraine and Democrats’ push for impeachment proceedings.
“They lost the election, now they want to steal this one,” a narrator says. The ad, to be shown on national cable outlets and online, details the former vice president’s past work in Ukraine but leaves out context about broader efforts by the U.S. and other governments to curb corruption there.
A Ukrainian official earlier this year said he had no evidence of wrongdoing by Mr. Biden or his son Hunter in that country.
Mr. Trump also met Friday at the White House with Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, according to two people familiar with the meeting.
Mr. Trump and Mr. LaPierre discussed how the NRA might be able to support the president politically amid the brewing impeachment fight on Capitol Hill, one of the people said. The New York Times earlier reported the meeting.
“The NRA is not inclined to discuss private conversations with the president,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA.
Separately, two House committees said Friday they are probing why the White House delayed the disbursement of aid to Ukraine, sending a letter to the White House budget office requesting written answers and documents about the decision-making process.
The committee leaders—Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.) and Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D., Ky.)—are alleging that the Office of Management and Budget gave responsibility for allocating the funds to the office’s associate director for national-security programs, which they write was a “seemingly unprecedented step of delegating the authority to execute these apportionments to a political appointee.” They requested documents justifying that decision.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The inspector general for the Pentagon is also considering a request that it open a review of U.S. military aid to Ukraine. The request was made in a letter from Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.).
In the subpoena to Mr. Pompeo, the committees said multiple State Department officials had knowledge of the subject of their impeachment probe and that new revelations raised “troubling questions about State Department officials’ possible involvement in the President’s efforts to press Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election. ” They said Mr. Pompeo’s failure to share documents impaired the ability of Congress to protect the country’s national security and the integrity of its democracy.
The State Department didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
For much of this year, Democrats’ debate on whether to pursue impeachment of Mr. Trump centered on Mr. Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. But since Mr. Mueller didn’t accuse Mr. Trump of wrongdoing, the president has become more emboldened, two administration officials said. On Friday, Mr. Trump called for Mr. Schiff to resign, saying that in a hearing the previous day the Intelligence Committee chairman had “fraudulently read to Congress” a version of the Ukraine phone call.
Mr. Schiff during the hearing presented a mock dialogue of the Trump-Zelensky call, which he characterized as an “organized crime shakedown.”
As the Intelligence panel’s Democrats canceled planned events back home, they began identifying people from whom they would like to hear, with particular interest in Messrs. Giuliani and Barr.
Democrats also would like to hear from the White House officials who were on the July call.
The Intelligence Committee will receive a closed-door briefing next Friday from Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson, who helped spark the impeachment proceeding when he alerted Mr. Schiff to the whistleblower complaint, which he deemed an urgent concern but said he had been blocked from sharing.
One reason that Democrats believe they will be able to act quickly is that Mr. Trump hasn’t been silent about the matter. Last weekend, Mr. Trump acknowledged he had brought up his potential rival, Mr. Biden, in the phone call, and the White House later released the rough transcript.
“I don’t think we need to go interview a thousand witnesses when he’s copped to it,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D., Calif.), who serves on both the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees.
It appears unlikely that the probe will be bipartisan. The panel’s top Republican, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, has echoed Mr. Trump in saying that Democrats are engaged in a witch hunt. Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have relentlessly pressed Mrs. Pelosi over breaking with House precedent by skipping a House-wide vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry.
The maneuver, they have said, reflects a partisan process that is unworthy of the sober nature of the probe.
Still, at least some Republicans are refraining from criticizing the investigation before it has begun.
“It’s important to talk to people with direct knowledge to get to the bottom of it,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York. She also declined to give a pass to White House officials who, according to the whistleblower complaint, had diverted politically sensitive records of Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky into a computer system reserved for classified materials. “They’re going to have to answer questions.”
House Subpoenas Giuliani, Trump’s Lawyer, For Ukraine Records
Rudolph W. Giuliani is at the center of an alleged pressure campaign to enlist Ukraine’s help in investigating the president’s political rivals.
House Democrats on Monday subpoenaed President Trump’s private lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, a key figure in their impeachment inquiry, even as the president vowed to learn the identity of the anonymous whistle-blower whose accusations of presidential impropriety toward Ukraine lie at the center of the scandal.
The Giuliani subpoena punctuated another day of confrontation in the capital, rife with accusations by both Democrats in Congress and an increasingly combative president.
“Our inquiry includes an investigation of credible allegations that you acted as an agent of the president in a scheme to advance his personal political interests by abusing the power of the office of the president,” three Democratic House chairmen wrote in a letter to Mr. Giuliani, who has served as Mr. Trump’s personal representative in Ukraine.
Democrats also requested documents and testimony from three of Mr. Giuliani’s associates who are said to be connected to an effort to pressure the Ukrainians into investigating Democratic rivals of Mr. Trump. They promised more subpoenas for other witnesses in the coming days.
If it was not already clear that the impeachment effort against Mr. Trump will not be resolved anytime soon, Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on Monday for the first time since the Ukraine revelations burst into public view that if the House impeached the president, a Senate trial on whether to convict Mr. Trump would be unavoidable.
“I would have no choice but to take it up,” Mr. McConnell said on CNBC.
As the day went on, Mr. Trump continued his attack on the anonymous whistle-blower whose complaint helped mobilize House Democrats, as well as on Representative Adam B. Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who is leading the impeachment inquiry.
The president said that the whistle-blower “knew almost nothing” and that the White House was “trying to find out” the whistle-blower’s identity — an action legal experts said could constitute an illegal reprisal. And he went as far as to question whether Mr. Schiff ought to be arrested for treason — a new extreme even for a president who has shredded modern political rules.
“This whole thing has been a disgrace,” Mr. Trump told reporters in the Oval Office.
As quickly as Mr. Trump and his Republican allies leveled criticism at the investigation, other potential leads were emerging related to the July phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine.
During that call, Mr. Trump pushed for a corruption investigation into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a leading Democratic presidential candidate.
Previously unreported attempts by Mr. Trump to enlist investigative help from other foreign governments also emerged.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was identified for the first time as being among the government officials listening in on the July call between the American and Ukrainian leaders. Just last week, Mr. Pompeo told reporters in New York that “each of the actions that were undertaken by State Department officials was entirely appropriate” in dealing with Mr. Zelensky’s government. Mr. Pompeo’s involvement, which was first reported by The Wall Street Journal, could soon prompt another subpoena for testimony.
For now, though, Democrats remain focused on Ukraine and what efforts were made there on behalf of Mr. Trump. In targeting Mr. Giuliani, Democrats are aiming directly at the man who appears to be at the center of the pressure campaign against the Ukrainian government.
Mr. Giuliani is mentioned frequently in the whistle-blower’s complaint and in recent weeks, he has admitted in interviews to trying to gather damaging information in Ukraine on Democrats, including Mr. Biden, that would help the president politically. He has also said the State Department was aware of some of his actions.
Mr. Giuliani has now been asked by House investigators for a range of communications and documents going back to January 2017. They include anything related to $391 million in American security aid that the Trump administration temporarily withheld from Ukraine and that Democrats have speculated may have been part of an effort to pressure the Ukrainian government.
Tense Relationship Between Barr And Giuliani Complicates Trump Impeachment Defense
The president’s two highest-profile lawyers are struggling to get on the same page.
Attorney General William Barr called President Trump in April with a question: What was Rudy Giuliani doing?
Mr. Trump had just avoided criminal charges with the release of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian electoral interference. But Mr. Giuliani was on television attacking former White House counsel Don McGahn, a longtime friend of the attorney general who had testified to investigators about some of the most notable incidents in the report, including Mr. Trump’s efforts to seek Mr. Mueller’s dismissal.
Why, Mr. Barr wanted to know, was the president’s private lawyer making a spectacle of himself rather than declaring victory in the Mueller investigation and moving on, according to a person who paraphrased the conversation. Mr. Barr wanted the president to tell Mr. Giuliani, in effect, to knock it off.
Five months later, Mr. Trump’s two highest-profile lawyers are again struggling to get on the same page, this time in the face of an impeachment inquiry launched by congressional Democrats last week. The president’s relationships with his private lawyer who once aspired to be his attorney general and the man who currently has that post are complicating White House efforts to build a legal and public-relations strategy to keep Mr. Trump in office.
Mr. Trump is receiving advice from two very different lawyers: Mr. Giuliani, who blankets the airwaves morning and evening with combative interviews and is prone to exaggeration; and Mr. Barr, a more measured figure but one who has drawn criticism for appearing overly close to Mr. Trump. As Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Mr. Giuliani’s job is to defend the president; as attorney general, Mr. Barr’s is to defend the Justice Department and the institution of the presidency.
Yet Mr. Trump at times refers to the two men almost interchangeably. In a July call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Mr. Trump pressed his counterpart to investigate Democrat Joe Biden, Mr. Trump didn’t draw a distinction between the roles of Messrs. Giuliani and Barr, saying repeatedly that he would have both of them call to discuss the possible Biden investigation and other matters.
“When he was in private life, Trump was accustomed to having lawyers where he was the client, he would give directives and they’d do their best to fulfill his directives,” a former senior administration official said. “The government works a little bit differently. That was something he didn’t know, didn’t appreciate and I’m not sure if he’s ever fully come to terms with.”
Mr. Barr was surprised and angry to discover weeks later that the president had lumped him together with Mr. Giuliani on the phone call with Mr. Zelensky, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Justice Department said Mr. Trump never asked Mr. Barr to contact the Ukrainians.
House committees on Monday subpoenaed Mr. Giuliani for documents related to his efforts to pressure Ukraine to probe Mr. Biden. Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a question about whether he would comply.
Mr. Giuliani said Tuesday that Jon Sale, a former assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation, will serve as his lawyer in the congressional investigations. Mr. Sale didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Last week, Mr. Giuliani said he didn’t plan to retain a lawyer.
Democrats have used the Trump-Zelensky phone call to raise questions about Mr. Barr’s own conduct. “I do think the attorney general has gone rogue,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said Friday on CNN. “Since he was mentioned in all of this, it’s curious that he would be making decisions about how the complaint would be handled.”
Some argued he should have recused himself from legal decisions surrounding a whistleblower complaint about Mr. Trump’s call with Mr. Zelensky and other matters which ultimately led House Democrats to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.
The Justice Department initially blocked the complaint from being turned over to Congress, advising the director of national intelligence in early September that it didn’t constitute an urgent concern that required reporting to the intelligence committees. Justice Department lawyers then said they didn’t find enough evidence to warrant opening a criminal investigation into possible campaign-finance violations.
Mr. Barr didn’t believe it was necessary to recuse himself from deliberations given that he didn’t know until later that the president had invoked his name on the call, but nonetheless didn’t oversee the review, an official said.
In the days since House Democrats opened an impeachment inquiry, Mr. Giuliani has been a near-constant fixture on TV, declaring himself a whistleblower and confirming he would deliver a paid speech at a Kremlin-backed conference, only to reverse himself hours later. Mr. Barr, in contrast, departed for Italy for a previously scheduled trip and hasn’t spoken publicly.
On Monday, a Justice Department official said Mr. Barr had asked the president to make introductions in several countries that may have information relevant to a federal probe into the origins of the Mueller investigation, which Mr. Trump has repeatedly decried as a “witch hunt.”
One such introduction was to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom Mr. Trump recently called at Mr. Barr’s request, two government officials said. The FBI opened its counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 after the Australian government tipped off the U.S. that another foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign appeared to have foreknowledge of the release of hacked material by Russia.
Despite legal careers that intersected under Mr. Trump, people close to Mr. Barr say he and Mr. Giuliani have never been close and that he is privately mystified by what many in conservative legal circles view as Mr. Giuliani’s meddling in matters that should be handled by officials in government. Mr. Barr has privately told associates that he believes Mr. Giuliani’s behavior in general isn’t helpful to the administration.
Mr. Trump likes and respects Mr. Giuliani but his perception of him is “cyclical” and varies depending on the day, a person close to the president said. The president so far appears to appreciate Mr. Giuliani’s very public defense of their Ukraine strategy. On Wednesday, speaking at the United Nations, Mr. Trump called Mr. Giuliani a “great lawyer” and said: “I’ve watched the passion that he’s had on television over the last few days. I think it’s incredible the way he’s done.”
“The only person that likes Rudy on TV right now is Trump,” said another person close to the president, adding that Mr. Trump “likes people who get on TV and fight for him.”
Mr. Giuliani said he hasn’t heard of any frustrations with him. Asked about criticism of his attacks on Mr. McGahn, he said in an interview that he wasn’t aware of Mr. Barr’s concerns. “Maybe he should notice that McGahn hasn’t testified,” Mr. Giulani said, referring to a subpoena for Mr. McGahn’s testimony from a House committee investigating Mr. Trump’s efforts to curtail the Mueller investigation. “I love when people Monday morning quarterback what you decide as a lawyer.”
Since joining the president’s legal team in April 2018, Mr. Giuliani has developed a reputation for combative TV interviews in which he has made stunning admissions—such as declaring last May that the president had reimbursed his former lawyer for a 2016 payment to a porn star—and has repeatedly had to walk back incorrect statements, such as his assertion in January that negotiations for a Trump Tower in Moscow had continued through Election Day. Mr. Barr, in contrast, is blunt yet more careful in his public statements.
Mr. Giuliani has known the president for decades, but bolstered his standing with Mr. Trump with his loyal support of his campaign in 2016. Mr. Trump didn’t always return the favor. He often needled the former mayor for falling asleep on long flights, and joked about whether Mr. Giuliani was looking at cartoons on his iPad, a former aide said.
Mr. Trump also berated Mr. Giuliani in front of others at the wedding of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in 2017. The president complained that Mr. Giuliani was spitting while he was talking and ordered him to stand elsewhere, the aide said.
After the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape weeks before the election in which Mr. Trump was captured making lewd comments about women, few advisers were willing to go on the Sunday talk shows to defend the candidate. Mr. Giuliani taped all five shows—after which Mr. Trump attacked him for his performance. “Man, Rudy, you sucked. You were weak. Low energy,” the candidate told him, according to a book by two former campaign aides, Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.
Mr. Giuliani rarely complained about such treatment, jockeying with other aides and advisers to sit next to Mr. Trump at dinner or on the plane. “Rudy never wanted to be left out,” one former aide said. “If you were ever between Rudy and the president, look out. You were going to get trampled.”
After the election, Mr. Giuliani was eager for an administration post—foremost, that of attorney general. He didn’t get it.
Yet Mr. Trump valued his loyalty. In staff meetings at the White House, the president would pre-empt complaints about Mr. Giuliani’s behavior on television by interrupting and making clear that he appreciated how hard the former mayor was fighting for him.
“Everyone shuts up after that,” a White House aide said.
Mr. Trump didn’t know Mr. Barr well before tapping him as the country’s top prosecutor on the recommendation of his legal advisers. Their relationship grew stronger during the final stages of the Mueller investigation, an administration official said, adding that Mr. Trump was pleased with the way his attorney general handled the end of the probe. In the months since, Mr. Trump has often privately praised Mr. Barr, and the two speak regularly.
Mr. Barr unrolled the Mueller team’s findings in a way that favored Mr. Trump, prompting criticism that he appeared overly interested in defending the president and risked the Justice Department’s independence from the White House. It was Mr. Barr who determined, along with then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that Mr. Trump hadn’t obstructed justice, after Mr. Mueller opted not to make a decision on that matter, citing a Justice Department policy barring the indictment of sitting presidents.
Mr. Barr served as attorney general under the first Bush administration and later became executive vice president and general counsel of a telecommunications company and a private lawyer before Mr. Trump tapped him as attorney general in December. Mr. Giuliani, too, was a high-ranking Justice Department official and Manhattan’s top prosecutor in the late 1980s, but had left that post by the time Mr. Barr became attorney general under George H.W. Bush.
In an interview for an oral history of the Bush presidency in 2001, Mr. Barr, who served as attorney general from 1991 to 1993, alluded to Mr. Giuliani’s reputation for charting his own path. Mr. Barr said the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office was the hardest to coordinate with, but favorably compared his U.S. attorney there to Mr. Giuliani, who held that post until 1989.
“My New York guy wasn’t Rudy Giuliani,” Mr. Barr said of Otto Obermaier, the Manhattan U.S. attorney until 1993. “He wasn’t that independent, but he basically ignored 50 percent of what I said.”
State Department Draws More Scrutiny In Trump Impeachment Probe
House leaders will question two key witnesses as they clash with Pompeo over access.
House leaders set plans to question two key State Department witnesses after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought Tuesday to block the effort, in the first clash between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration of the newly minted impeachment inquiry.
Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will be deposed Oct. 11, postponing her scheduled session by nine days, a committee aide said Tuesday. Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations who resigned last week, will be deposed on Thursday.
The planned questioning and the back-and-forth with Mr. Pompeo show how House Democrats increasingly see the State Department as central to their inquiry of whether President Trump inappropriately used his office to pressure Ukraine’s president into investigating a political rival.
In a letter to House lawmakers published on Twitter, Mr. Pompeo accused them of trying to bully department officials into appearing before the committees, saying officials weren’t given enough time to prepare, including consulting with the department’s legal counsel.
That letter drew a swift rebuke from the chairmen of three House committees, who warned Mr. Pompeo that pressuring witnesses not to speak with lawmakers could be seen as an illegal attempt to protect himself and Mr. Trump. Mr. Pompeo took part in the July phone call that is central to the inquiry, The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday.
“Any effort to intimidate witnesses or prevent them from talking with Congress—including State Department employees—is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction of the impeachment inquiry,” said a joint statement by Reps. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) of the Intelligence Committee and Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) of the Oversight Committee.
Also on Tuesday, the State Department’s inspector general contacted several House and Senate committees and asked to brief their staffers on Wednesday about an unspecified matter related to Ukraine, a congressional aide said.
The depositions by Mr. Volker and Ms. Yovanovitch will be central to the burgeoning inquiry. Mr. Volker has drawn scrutiny in recent days for his role in introducing Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, to Andriy Yermak, a top aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The two spoke by phone several times this summer and met in person in Madrid in August. Mr. Giuliani has said he raised the matter of investigating Democrat Joe Biden to Mr. Zelensky.
Ms. Yovanovitch was ousted from her ambassadorial post in May following criticism from conservatives, including Mr. Giuliani, who publicly accused her of acting against the president’s interests. Mr. Giuliani has denied he sought to pressure her ouster.
Ms. Yovanovitch, who remains a State Department employee and is a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University, hasn’t responded to requests for comment. Those who know her described her as a professional and denied accusations of any politically motivated actions.
Mr. Trump, in a rough transcript the White House released of his call with Mr. Zelensky, described Ms. Yovanovitch as “bad news” and said she would “go through some things.” It is unusual for a president to criticize a U.S. official to a foreign leader.
Tuesday, more than two dozen former U.S. diplomats, Ukraine specialists and other regional foreign-policy experts sent a letter to the State Department saying they were “disturbed” by reports linking Ms. Yovanovitch’s ouster to “absurd and unfounded allegations.”
“Such language could be interpreted as a threat of some kind,” the letter said, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments on the phone call. “Such language and the broader attack on Ambassador Yovanovitch should be condemned unequivocally.”
House Democrats have moved rapidly in recent days, as lawmakers have issued subpoenas to Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Giuliani for documents related to the administration’s requests that Ukraine investigate Mr. Biden just as aid to the country was being held up.
Mr. Giuliani said Tuesday he has appointed Jon Sale, a former assistant special prosecutor in the Watergate investigation, to serve as his lawyer in the congressional investigations. Last week, Mr. Giuliani said he didn’t plan to hire a lawyer.
In the face of the quickly escalating inquiry, Mr. Trump on Tuesday continued to lash out against the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the investigation last week. In tweets, Mr. Trump pushed for the whistleblower’s identity to be revealed and asked: “Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all of the false information to him.”
Later Tuesday, Mr. Trump said he was becoming convinced that “what is taking place is not an impeachment, it is a COUP.”
Despite the president’s tweets, the White House isn’t actively seeking to learn the whistleblower’s identity and hasn’t contacted the intelligence community’s inspector general to ask for that information, a White House official said.
Senators in both parties called for officials to protect the whistleblower, and the inspector general of the intelligence community rebuffed comments by Trump allies casting doubt on the propriety of the whistleblower’s complaint.
Mr. Trump has accused the whistleblower, known to be a Central Intelligence Agency officer, of having only secondhand information about the conversation with Mr. Zelensky. The whistleblower said he heard of the call from multiple White House officials with direct knowledge of it and who said the president was pressuring the Ukrainian leader in order to advance his own political interests. He also said White House officials acted to conceal evidence of the president’s actions. Details of the whistleblower’s account aligned closely with the content of the rough transcript of the phone call.
The whistleblower is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee as soon as early next week, though his attorneys and the committee continue to negotiate logistics, including a time and place.
The whistleblower’s attorney and some lawmakers have accused Mr. Trump of endangering his well-being, including by telling reporters Monday afternoon that “we’re trying to find out about a whistleblower” and suggesting that the whistleblower and anyone who provided information to him were spies committing treason.
“It is deeply disturbing that the president went on national television and told the American people that he’s trying to find out the whistleblower’s identity,” Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), long an advocate for whistleblower protections, also called Tuesday for protecting the man’s identity. “This person appears to have followed the whistleblower-protection laws and ought to be heard out and protected,” he said.
In addition to Ms. Yovanovitch and Mr. Volker, House lawmakers want to question Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs George Kent, State Department counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl and U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland.
Mr. Sondland said before Mr. Pompeo’s letter on Tuesday that he planned to attend the deposition.
House committees on Monday subpoenaed Mr. Giuliani for documents related to his efforts to pressure Ukraine to probe Mr. Biden. Mr. Giuliani didn’t respond to a question about whether he would comply.
House Committees To Subpoena White House For Ukraine-Related Records
Draft of subpoena focuses on Trump’s April and July phone calls to Ukraine president.
The House committees at the heart of an investigation into whether to impeach President Trump over his effort to enlist Ukraine to probe Democratic rival Joe Biden said that they planned to issue a subpoena on Friday to force the White House to turn over records related to a pair of phone calls between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s president.
Democrats leading the House intelligence, oversight and foreign-affairs committees said that they planned to direct it to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. The subpoena would be officially issued by the Oversight Committee.
“The White House’s flagrant disregard of multiple voluntary requests for documents—combined with stark and urgent warnings from the Inspector General about the gravity of these allegations—have left us with no choice but to issue this subpoena,” they wrote in a memo accompanying the release of a draft subpoena.
To date, the White House has declined to turn over documents to House committees and has called Democratic investigations witch hunts.
“This is nothing but more document requests, wasted time, and taxpayer dollars that will ultimately show the president did nothing wrong,” White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said. “The Dems can continue with their kangaroo court, the president will continue to work on behalf of this country.”
If the White House continues to ignore requests, Democrats have suggested that could form the basis for one article of impeachment aimed at the president, similar to what was aimed at former President Richard Nixon.
“If they are going to prevent witnesses from going forward to testify on the allegations in the whistleblower complaint, that will create an adverse inference that those allegations are, in fact, correct,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) said in a press briefing.
Mr. Trump, speaking in the Oval Office with the president of Finland, repeated his calls for Mr. Schiff to resign over his description last month of the phone call Mr. Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when the Intelligence chairman compared Mr. Trump’s behavior to that of a mob boss. He favorably compared Mr. Pompeo to Mr. Schiff, telling reporters: “That guy couldn’t carry his ‘blank-strap.’”
“They’ve been trying to impeach me from the day I got elected,” Mr. Trump said of Democrats. “And you know what? They failed. And this one is the easiest of them all.”
The subpoena asks for transcripts, recordings and notes related to a phone call on April 21, when Mr. Trump congratulated Mr. Zelensky on his election, and a July 25 phone call in which he asked his Ukrainian counterpart to “do us a favor” and look into his potential 2020 presidential rival, Mr. Biden, while also reminding him of the aid the U.S. provides the country.
The subpoena is also aimed at obtaining records of communications among a wide range of Trump administration officials, including current or former State Department officials, Attorney General William Barr, officials from the National Security Council, and officials from the office of the vice president, including Vice President Mike Pence and his national-security adviser, Keith Kellogg.
In addition, the committees hope to obtain records of communications sent to or received by the State Department relating to a so-called “black ledger,” which involves documents from Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau, created in 2014 under pressure from Western governments. The request covers any references to people including Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign manager who was sentenced to prison in part for crimes related to political-consulting work in Ukraine.
The letter comes as the House Democratic probe of White House requests to Ukraine is heating up, with the first of the witnesses from the State Department set to testify behind closed doors on Thursday.
On Friday, the inspector general for the intelligence community, Michael Atkinson, is set to brief the House Intelligence Committee about a whistleblower complaint that touched off impeachment proceedings. The inspector general had previously briefed members of the Intelligence Committee behind closed doors, but that was before the whistleblower complaint had been made public and he wasn’t able to discuss its substance. Now, Mr. Atkinson, who was appointed to his post by Mr. Trump and found the complaint both urgent and credible, will be able to go into detail; Democrats hope to build new leads, and in particular to understand how he corroborated the whistleblower’s allegations.
Pompeo Confirms Listening To Trump-Zelensky Phone Call In July
The secretary of state said the conversation dealt with U.S. policy on Ukraine.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo acknowledged for the first time that he listened in on the phone call between President Trump and Ukraine’s leader that has resulted in a House impeachment inquiry, and said the conversation occurred in the context of normal U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine.
The inquiry follows disclosures that Mr. Trump had asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the July 25 call for a favor that stood to benefit him politically.
Mr. Pompeo, asked at a news conference in Rome on Wednesday if he heard anything inappropriate while taking part in the call, didn’t address the question directly.
“I was on the phone call,” he said in Rome. “The phone call was in the context of—now I guess I’ve been the secretary of state for coming on a year and a half, I know precisely what the American policy is with respect to Ukraine,” Mr. Pompeo said. “It’s been remarkably consistent, and we will continue to try to drive those set of outcomes.”
The secretary went on to outline those goals: working to counter the threat that Russia poses to Ukraine; rooting out corruption; and supporting the new government’s efforts to build a strong economy.
Mr. Pompeo had been asked several times about the call but until Wednesday hadn’t said that he listened in on the conversation.
When a reporter followed up to ask Mr. Pompeo to clarify whether anything inappropriate was discussed during the call, officials organizing the press conference moved on to the next reporter.
Mr. Zelensky won an April election on a promise to fight endemic corruption and end a conflict with Russia-backed separatists.
Mr. Pompeo was asked in a Sept. 22 ABC interview about the House probe and about what he knew of the conversation between Messrs. Trump and Zelensky. He responded then: “So, you just gave me a report about a I.C. [intelligence community] whistleblower complaint, none of which I’ve seen.”
The Wall Street Journal reported on Monday that Mr. Pompeo had listened in on the call.
A complaint filed earlier this year by a Central Intelligence Agency officer under federal whistleblower laws alleged Mr. Trump pressed Mr. Zelensky during that call to investigate alleged wrongdoing by U.S. Democrats, including rival Joe Biden, in Ukraine. The White House released a record of the call in which a rough transcript confirmed Mr. Trump’s request of the Ukrainian leader for what he called a favor.
Those disclosures triggered the start of a House impeachment inquiry that has also brought actions by Mr. Pompeo and the State Department under scrutiny.
On Wednesday, the State Department’s inspector general, an independent watchdog office, planned to brief lawmakers on an unspecified matter.
In addition, several current and former State Department officials are scheduled to meet with lawmakers in coming weeks. Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations who resigned last week, will be questioned by lawmakers on Thursday. Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, will be deposed Oct. 11.
Mr. Pompeo reiterated Wednesday that the State Department would cooperate with the House lawmakers investigating the Ukraine call, and again criticized the committees for their handling of the investigation.
“We won’t tolerate folks on Capitol Hill bullying and intimidating state department employees. That’s unacceptable,” Mr. Pompeo said. On Tuesday, Mr. Pompeo in a letter published on Twitter accused lawmakers of using bullying tactics to force current and former officials to testify and said officials weren’t given enough time to prepare.
Three Democratic House committee chairmen warned Mr. Pompeo that pressuring witnesses not to speak with lawmakers could be seen as an illegal attempt to protect himself and Mr. Trump.
The three Democratic chairmen—Reps. Eliot Engel (D., N.Y.) of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) of the Intelligence Committee and Elijah Cummings (D., Md.) of the Oversight Committee—also sent a letter addressed to Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan saying that Mr. Pompeo “now appears to have an obvious conflict of interest.”
Participating in the call between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president, the lawmakers wrote, renders him a witness in the congressional inquiry, and as a result, “he should not be making any decisions regarding witness testimony or document production in order to protect himself or the president.”
Ms. Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, was removed from her post in May following criticism from conservatives, including Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, who publicly accused her of acting against the president’s interests. Mr. Giuliani has denied he sought to pressure for her ouster.
Mr. Trump, in the rough transcript of his call with Mr. Zelensky, described Ms. Yovanovitch as “bad news” and said she would “go through some things.”
Ms. Yovanovitch, who remains a State Department employee and is a senior State Department fellow at Georgetown University, hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
Those who know her defended her as a professional and denied accusations of any politically motivated actions. She was appointed as deputy chief of the U.S. mission in Ukraine by former President George W. Bush, later serving in posts elsewhere before returning to Kyiv in 2016.
Attorneys for CIA Officer Behind Trump Complaint Say They Now Represent ‘Multiple Whistleblowers’
One attorney said a second whistleblower has come foward with firsthand knowledge of some of the allegations.
The legal team representing the Central Intelligence Agency officer behind the complaint that helped spark an impeachment inquiry into President Trump is now advising “multiple whistleblowers,” the attorneys said Sunday.
The existence of at least one additional whistleblower could complicate President Trump’s efforts to counter the impeachment proceedings building against him in Congress. Mr. Trump repeatedly has sought to attack the credibility and motive of the first individual who filed a formal whistleblower complaint in August.
“I can confirm that my firm and my team represent multiple whistleblowers,” Andrew Bakaj, the lead attorney for the first whistleblower, said in a tweet. “No further comment at this time.”
Mark Zaid, another attorney representing the initial whistleblower, said that a second whistleblower, also an intelligence official, has come forward with firsthand knowledge of some of the allegations described in the initial complaint, which describe efforts by Mr. Trump to press his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival just as aid to the country was being held up.
That person has been interviewed by the intelligence community inspector general, Michael Atkinson, triggering whistleblower protections as provided by federal law, but hasn’t filed a separate formal whistleblower complaint, Mr. Zaid said. ABC first reported the legal team was representing a second whistleblower. Mr. Atkinson’s office didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Zaid said on Twitter that the second whistleblower “made a protected disclosure under the law and cannot be retaliated against.”
In a statement Sunday, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said: “It doesn’t matter how many people decide to call themselves whistleblowers about the same telephone call—a call the president already made public—it doesn’t change the fact that he has done nothing wrong.”
Asked to clarify if his team had been approached by only one additional potential whistleblower or others as well, Mr. Zaid replied: “There are definitely multiple whistleblowers.” He offered no further comment.
The whistleblower complaint, released late last month after the Trump administration sought to block its transmission to Congress, alleges that Mr. Trump sought to use the powers of his office to push Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and that White House officials acted to conceal evidence of the president’s actions.
It said it drew from testimonials of several unidentified U.S. officials who expressed concern about Mr. Trump’s conduct to the whistleblower.
During his phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on July 25, Mr. Trump pressed Mr. Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, according to a reconstructed transcript released by the White House.
During the call, Mr. Trump mentioned the aid that the U.S. provides Ukraine, but he didn’t present it as an explicit quid pro quo for a probe of the Bidens. Text messages among State Department officials released last week show some administration officials believed there was a link between the aid holdup and Mr. Trump’s interest in Kyiv’s launching new probes.
Mr. Trump repeatedly has lashed out at the whistleblower, but a White House official said last week that the White House hadn’t actively sought to learn the whistleblower’s identity and hadn’t contacted the intelligence community’s inspector general to ask for that information.
Democrats and some Republicans have defended the whistleblower and pointed out that he is entitled to protection, including anonymity, provided under federal whistleblowing laws. But the president’s close allies continued to defend his conduct on Sunday while seeking to discredit the appearance of additional whistleblowers.
“When it comes to ‘more whistleblowers coming forward’…I’ve seen this movie before — with Brett #Kavanaugh,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) tweeted, referring to multiple women who came forward last year with allegations of sexual misconduct against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his Senate confirmation. “More and more doesn’t mean better or reliable.”
Mr. Trump and his allies also have attempted to portray the whistleblower complaint, which was based on information from more than a half-dozen U.S. officials, as a partisan plot by Democrats in Congress, federal officials and the whistleblower’s lawyers.
Mr. Bakaj, the whistleblower’s lead attorney and a former intelligence and Pentagon official, donated $100 in April—before the events alleged in the complaint took place—to a Democratic technology nonprofit, earmarking it for Mr. Biden’s campaign. He declined to comment about the donation.
Mr. Atkinson, the Trump-appointed intelligence community inspector general, said in his review of the complaint that he found some indications of possible political bias on the part of the first whistleblower, but he concluded the complaint was both urgent and credible.
House Intelligence Committee members are still trying to confidentially interview the first whistleblower, whose action set into motion a sequence of events that has rapidly become a political threat to Mr. Trump. That interview could happen as soon as this week, although discussions between the lawyers and committee staff are ongoing.
Mr. Trump and his allies have said he has a right to ask foreign leaders to investigate corruption and have denied he did anything wrong in his efforts to press the Ukrainian leader. Democrats have cited the allegations as evidence that the president and his administration were willing to use the power of his office to persuade a foreign country to undertake a probe that would be beneficial to his re-election campaign.
Text messages released by House committees last week revealed that administration officials sought to use a White House meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky as leverage to press the Ukrainian government to pursue an investigation into Mr. Biden and other matters.
The messages indicate that U.S. officials coordinated with aides to the Ukrainian president and Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s private lawyer, on a draft statement in which Kyiv would announce an investigation into Mr. Biden and the 2016 U.S. election—at the same time as announcing a visit by the Ukrainian president to the White House.
The emergence of at least one additional whistleblower “demonstrates that there was a view by more than one civil servant that this behavior by the president was inappropriate, unprofessional and possibly impeachable,” said Bradley Moss, a whistleblower attorney who is a partner in Mr. Zaid’s firm but who isn’t involved in the Ukraine case. “More importantly, this ensures that the ultimate factual record will be more complete and comprehensive.”
Mr. Trump over the weekend struck out at his few Republican critics, singling out Sen. Mitt Romney (R., Utah), as a “pompous ass” in a Twitter message. Mr. Romney last week called Mr. Trump’s pressure on Ukraine and his comments inviting China to undertake a probe “wrong and appalling.”
Other Republicans on Sunday largely demurred when asked on news programs about Mr. Trump’s conversations with foreign leaders.
“I don’t think he really meant ‘go investigate,’ ” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), in an interview on ABC. “Do you think China’s going to go investigate him?”
The White House didn’t respond to a question about whether Mr. Trump was serious when he said at the White House last week: “China should start an investigation into the Bidens.”
Republicans also played down the seriousness of Mr. Trump’s conversations with Mr. Zelensky.
“I do think it’s not unusual for foreign leaders when they talk to each other to say, ‘Here’s something I’d like you do for me,’ whether it’s a trade agreement or some other agreement,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R., Mo.) said on CBS.
Democrats said that Mr. Trump’s requests have focused mainly on Mr. Biden, a potential 2020 rival. “I’m sure presidents have in the past asked other leaders for favors,” Rep. Jim Himes (D., Conn.) told CBS. “Traditionally those favors have not been: ‘research my political opponent.’ ”
Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.), asked about his comment in a Wall Street Journal article that he “winced” upon learning in August that military aid to Ukraine had been held up amid White House requests for a Ukrainian investigation, said on NBC: “I didn’t want those connected, and I supported the aid.”
Mr. Johnson in a combative interview also said Mr. Trump is entitled to an accounting of 2016 election interference, which led to investigations by U.S. intelligence and law enforcement that concluded that Russia interfered to help Mr. Trump win.
House Committees Subpoena Pentagon, OMB for Ukraine Documents
Subpoenas mark latest effort to obtain documents for impeachment inquiry.
House committees subpoenaed the Pentagon and the Office of Management and Budget for documents related to the Trump administration’s dealings with Ukraine, the latest effort by Democrats to obtain new information from the administration on efforts to pressure Kyiv to investigate the president’s political rival Joe Biden.
The chairmen of the House intelligence, oversight and foreign affairs committees sent letters to Defense Secretary Mark Esper and OMB acting director Russell Vought seeking documents related to the hold President Trump ordered in July on nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine. Lawmakers struggled over the summer to get answers from the administration on the reason for the hold, and little explanation was given inside the administration for why the money was being held up.
“The committees are investigating the extent to which President Trump jeopardized U.S. national security by pressing Ukraine to interfere with our 2020 election and by withholding military assistance provided by Congress to help Ukraine counter Russian aggression, as well as any efforts to cover up these matters,” the chairmen wrote in the letters. They set a deadline of Oct. 15 for the documents.
Representatives for OMB and the Pentagon didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Trump’s directive to hold the aid to Ukraine in July was made to Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff who is also the director of OMB. Mr. Trump also discussed the hold with Mr. Esper, the Journal has reported. The Pentagon has long favored moving forward with military aid.
Mr. Trump has denied a connection between his efforts to press Ukraine and his hold on aid to the country and has rejected the idea that he was pushing for investigations from Kyiv for political reasons.
The Pentagon and the OMB are the latest departments to receive subpoenas from the House since the impeachment inquiry launched last month. Last week, House lawmakers subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Mike Pence for documents related to Mr. Trump’s policy toward Ukraine. They also subpoenaed Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, and deposed one former State Department official.
Later this week, House committees are set to depose Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, and Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whom Mr. Trump ousted this spring.
House lawmakers have also subpoenaed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for Ukraine-related documents. On Saturday, Mr. Pompeo said the department sent Congress a letter responding to the subpoena and told reporters: “We’ll obviously do all the things we’re required to do by law.”
The White House is also drafting a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi aimed at challenging her approach to the impeachment inquiry, administration officials said. Since Democrats took over control of the House in January, the White House has rebuffed nearly all requests for documents and testimony.
House Democrats To Subpoena Sondland, Setting Up Showdown With Trump
Administration kept ambassador from testifying about his role in Ukraine controversy that has sparked impeachment inquiry.
House committees will subpoena Gordon Sondland after the State Department directed the U.S. ambassador to the European Union to skip a planned deposition Tuesday, preventing Congress from hearing from a key figure in the Ukraine controversy driving Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
The decision by the administration to block Mr. Sondland from testifying just hours before he was set to appear sets up another showdown in the fight between the Trump administration and the Democratic-controlled House.
President Trump says Democrats are engaged in a witch hunt designed to drive him from office. Democrats say the White House is stonewalling legitimate inquiries into whether he improperly sought to enlist a foreign nation in undermining a political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Mr. Sondland had flown to Washington from Brussels and was set to be deposed starting Tuesday morning. Lawmakers want to learn what he knows about President Trump’s effort to press Kyiv for investigations of Mr. Biden, and whether the administration offered promises of a White House visit or military assistance in return.
The ambassador, a former hotel executive, was expected to be questioned on the role that he and other officials played in crafting a statement in August in which Ukraine would commit to opening a corruption investigation involving Mr. Biden in exchange for a White House meeting between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I would love to send Ambassador Sondland, a really good man and great American, to testify,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Tuesday. “But unfortunately he would be testifying before a totally compromised kangaroo court, where Republican’s rights have been taken away, and true facts are not allowed out for the public to see.”
Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Democrats consider the move by the Trump administration to bar Mr. Sondland from testifying and producing related documents “additional, strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress.”
Robert Luskin, a lawyer for Mr. Sondland, said he had been alerted of the decision at 12:30 a.m. Tuesday morning by a State Department official, whom Mr. Luskin declined to name. The official didn’t offer an explanation, Mr. Luskin said. He said his client was “profoundly disappointed” not to be able to testify and that he “stands ready to testify on short notice, whenever he is permitted to appear.”
House committees on Tuesday said they would issue a subpoena for Mr. Sondland to testify and for documents. The decision by the State Department also sets up an immediate clash over testimony scheduled for later this week by Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who remains a State Department employee.
The State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo ignored a question about Mr. Sondland in an appearance at the State Department on Tuesday. Ms. Yovanovitch hasn’t responded to requests for comment. Asked whether the White House blocked Mr. Sondland’s congressional testimony, a White House spokesman pointed to Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed.
Congress has a few options to enforce its subpoenas on reluctant witnesses. It could go to court and try to get a federal judge to issue an order for Mr. Sondland to testify. However, Congress is engaged in similar litigation with other current and former Trump administration officials over testimony or documents and such lawsuits often takes months or years to wind through the courts.
Mr. Schiff told reporters that he was informed an hour and a half before the planned 9:30 a.m. deposition that Mr. Sondland wouldn’t be testifying. He also said the State Department had declined to turn over messages contained on a personal device belonging to Mr. Sondland.
Mr. Luskin, the lawyer, said Mr. Sondland previously turned over to the State Department messages from his personal devices, including WhatsApp messages, text messages and emails.
Mr. Sondland has come under fresh scrutiny in recent days after Sen. Ron Johnson (R., Wis.) told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that Mr. Sondland had told him in August that the decision to hold up nearly $400 million aid to Ukraine was contingent on an investigation desired by Mr. Trump and his allies. Mr. Johnson said the president denied any quid pro quo.
Mr. Sondland doesn’t remember his conversation with the senator that way, according to a person familiar with his activities. He understood the White House visit was on hold until Ukraine met certain requirements, but he didn’t know of a link to the military aid, this person said.
Yet text messages released by House lawmakers last week suggest some Trump administration officials believed there was a link between the aid to Ukraine and the investigations Mr. Trump sought. After the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv raised such concerns, Mr. Sondland spoke with the president before texting back five hours later that Mr. Trump had “been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
As Democrats have begun to gather more information, they say they are focusing on four main issues: whether Mr. Trump asked Ukraine for help in his election; whether a proposed meeting between Ukraine’s president and Mr. Trump at the White House was conditioned on the willingness of Kyiv to investigate the 2016 election and Mr. Biden and his son Hunter; whether Ukraine was given reason to believe that military aid to combat Russian aggression was being withheld until it committed to initiate political investigations; and whether Mr. Trump and other officials attempted a cover-up.
Congress could make the State Department’s refusal to allow Mr. Sondland to testify part of its formal impeachment charges. Contempt of Congress was one of the impeachment resolutions considered against Richard Nixon in 1974 before his resignation.
House Republicans attacked Mr. Schiff on Tuesday, accusing him of running an unfair process and mistreating a witness who testified last week, Kurt Volker, who recently stepped down as special representative to Ukraine. Republicans in particular complained that Mr. Schiff hasn’t yet released the transcript of Mr. Volker’s deposition.
Some Republicans, like President Trump, said they want to probe any Ukraine role in the 2016 election. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.) said on Twitter it was “time for the Senate to inquire about corruption and other improprieties involving Ukraine.” He said that he would offer Mr. Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, the opportunity to come before the Senate Judiciary Committee. A spokesman for Mr. Graham said it was still to be determined whether Mr. Giuliani would speak in public or in private.
Mr. Giuliani has pressed Ukraine on pursuing investigations related to U.S. politics, including probing Mr. Biden and his son. Democrats have said that the calls for probes into any help Ukraine provided Democrats in 2016 are based on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, for which no evidence has emerged to back them up. Mr. Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has said that as vice president he carried out the official policy of the U.S. government to root out corruption in Ukraine and that Mr. Trump is engaged in a smear campaign against him.
Two Giuliani Associates Who Helped Him on Ukraine Charged With Campaign-Finance Violations
Prosecutors say Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were part of a conspiracy to funnel a Russian donor’s money into President Trump’s campaign.
Two Soviet-born donors to a pro- Trump fundraising committee who helped Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to investigate Democrat Joe Biden were arrested late Wednesday on criminal charges stemming from their alleged efforts to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections and influence U.S. politics on behalf of at least one Ukrainian politician.
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Florida businessmen, made a brief appearance in federal court in Virginia Thursday, dressed in T-shirts. Both men are U.S. citizens born in former Soviet republics. They were arrested at Dulles Airport on Wednesday while awaiting an international flight with one-way tickets, according to people familiar with the matter, a day before one of them was scheduled to testify before House committees.
Mr. Giuliani said Thursday that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were headed to Vienna, Austria, on Wednesday evening for reasons related to their business. He declined to elaborate on those reasons. He said the two men had also left the country about two weeks ago and had traveled to Vienna between three and six times in the last two months. He said he had been scheduled to meet with the two when they returned to Washington within days.
A federal prosecutor told a judge the government remains concerned that the men will flee. Attorneys on both sides said they would reach an agreement about the conditions of their bail and would return to the judge later Thursday or Friday.
In a 21-page indictment unsealed Thursday, federal prosecutors in Manhattan alleged Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were engaged in political activities in the U.S. on behalf of one or more Ukrainian government officials—including a lobbying campaign, targeted at a Republican congressman, to remove the U.S. ambassador in Kyiv. President Trump ordered the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, removed from her post in May, the Journal has reported.
Their political giving—aimed at Republicans—was funded in part by an unnamed Russian donor, the indictment alleges. Federal law bans foreigners from contributing to U.S. elections. A limited liability company created by the men was used to disguise the source of some of the money, the indictment says.
The men were charged with four counts, including conspiracy, falsification of records and lying to the Federal Election Commission about their political donations, according to the indictment.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani’s effort to investigate Mr. Biden’s son that is now at the center of an impeachment inquiry being conducted by House Democrats.
The defendants “sought political influence not only to advance their own financial interests but to advance the political interests of at least one foreign official—a Ukrainian government official who sought the dismissal of the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said Thursday, adding that the investigation was continuing.
Since late 2018, Messrs. Fruman and Parnas have introduced Mr. Giuliani to several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors to discuss the Biden case, acting as key conduits of information.
The two had lunch with Mr. Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel in Washington on Wednesday, according to a person who was in the hotel and saw the three together.
Separately, hours after the indictment was announced, three Democrat-controlled House committees leading the impeachment probe of Mr. Trump issued subpoenas to Messrs. Parnas and Fruman for documents, including anything related to a meeting with former Rep. Pete Sessions (R., Texas) around May 2018; documents related to Paul Manafort, a former Trump campaign manager who has been sentenced to prison on charges related to political consulting work in Ukraine; Hunter Biden; Mr. Trump; and a slew of State Department officials. An attorney for the two men had said in an Oct. 8 letter to the committee that it would take time to gather documents, and that the two men wouldn’t be available for depositions originally scheduled for Oct. 10.
While Mr. Giuliani used the two men for finding dirt on Mr. Biden and his son Hunter, they, in turn, solicited money from Ukrainians while touting their connections to Washington, according to people familiar with their activities in Ukraine.
Mr. Giuliani, President Trump’s private lawyer, identified the two men in May as his clients. On Thursday, he said he wasn’t representing them in this case. He told Fox News on Thursday that he found their arrest “extremely suspicious.” Mr. Giuliani hasn’t been contacted by Manhattan federal prosecutors, he said Thursday morning.
John Dowd, a former lawyer for Mr. Trump who now represents Messrs. Parnas and Fruman, didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Dowd has previously told Congress that the men were assisting Mr. Giuliani “in connection with his representation of President Trump.”
Jay Sekulow, a lawyer for Mr. Trump, said: “Neither the president nor the campaign nor political-action committees were aware of these transactions.”
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had almost no history of political giving before March 2018, when they both began to spend lavishly on politics, according to the indictment, although Mr. Parnas had contributed about $100,000 to Mr. Trump’s initial campaign in late October 2016, FEC records show. They began last year donating to Republican campaigns including Mr. Trump’s reelection bid and outside groups that support him.
Prosecutors outlined a scheme by which Messrs. Parnas and Fruman made donations aimed at concealing the source of the funds.
The indictment alleges that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman conspired with two other men also named as defendants—David Correia, Mr. Parnas’s longtime business partner and No. 2, and Andrey Kukushkin—to make political donations funded by a foreign national to federal and state candidates “to gain influence with candidates as to policies that would benefit a future business venture”—a recreational marijuana business. Mr. Kukushkin was arrested on Wednesday in San Francisco but Mr. Correia hasn’t been apprehended, officials said.
The charging documents say that in May 2018 the men gave $325,000 to the primary pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action, through the LLC Global Energy Producers, according to FEC records. The way they structured that donation was meant “to evade the reporting requirements” in federal law, prosecutors said.
The indictment also alleges that Mr. Fruman intentionally misspelled his name to further evade FEC scrutiny. Fundraising records show that an “Igor Furman,” whose details otherwise match those of Mr. Fruman, made additional campaign donations totaling almost $400,000 beginning in March 2018. That would bring the pair’s contributions to about $1 million.
Attorney General William Barr discussed the case on Thursday with federal prosecutors in Manhattan, where he was making a preplanned visit. A Justice Department official said Mr. Barr was supportive of their work on the case, on which he was first briefed shortly after being confirmed as attorney general in February. He was aware on Wednesday night that the pair would be charged and taken into custody last night, the official said.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had dinner with Mr. Trump in early May 2018, shortly before they donated to the pro-Trump super PAC, according to since-deleted Facebook posts captured in a report published by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, a nonprofit U.S.-based media organization. They also met later that month with the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr. , at a fundraising breakfast in Beverly Hills, Calif., along with Tommy Hicks Jr. , a close friend of the younger Mr. Trump who at the time was heading America First Action. Mr. Parnas posted a photo of their breakfast four days after his LLC donated to the super PAC.
A spokeswoman for America First Action said the super PAC had placed the contribution in a segregated bank account after a complaint was filed in July 2018 with the FEC. The donation “has not been used for any purpose and the funds will remain in this segregated account until these matters are resolved,” the spokeswoman said. “We take our legal obligations seriously and scrupulously comply with the law and any suggestion otherwise is false.”
Mr. Parnas in July accompanied Mr. Giuliani to a breakfast meeting with Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations. During that breakfast, Mr. Giuliani mentioned the investigations he was pursuing into Mr. Biden and 2016 election interference, according to Mr. Volker’s testimony to House committees.
The indictment refers to a congressman, identifiable as former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, whose assistance Mr. Parnas sought in “causing the U.S. government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine.” The indictment says those efforts were conducted “at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.” Mr. Sessions didn’t respond to a request for comment.
In May 2018, Mr. Sessions, a Republican, sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asking for her removal, saying he had been told Ms. Yovanovitch was displaying a bias against the president in private conversations.
Mr. Sessions last week declined to say where his information about the ambassador came from. Messrs. Parnas and Fruman told the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in July that they told Mr. Sessions last year Ms. Yovanovitch was “bad-mouthing” the president. They later donated to his campaign.
Mr. Trump moved to oust Ms. Yovanovitch this spring after Mr. Giuliani told him that she was undermining him abroad and hindering efforts to investigate Mr. Biden. House committees are seeking Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony.
The indictment also says the men met in July 2018 in Las Vegas to hatch plans to start a recreational marijuana business in Nevada that would be funded by the unnamed Russian national. Their plan was to contribute as much as $2 million to politicians in Nevada, New York and other states with the goal of acquiring marijuana licenses, the indictment says. When they missed the deadline to apply for a license in Nevada, they made additional contributions to candidates there to try to get their business greenlighted.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman and their business partner, Mr. Kukushkin, attended an Oct. 20, 2018, rally in Nevada, according to the indictment. That day, Mr. Trump held a rally in Elko, Nevada, to urge support for Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Laxalt.
Nevada state fundraising records show Mr. Fruman gave $10,000 to Mr. Laxalt and Republican attorney-general candidate Wesley Duncan on Nov. 1, 2018. Both men lost to Democrats. Representatives for Messrs. Laxalt and Duncan said Thursday that they didn’t know Mr. Fruman and had no idea the donations were made unlawfully.
Trump Pressed for Ukraine Envoy’s Removal, She Tells Lawmakers
Marie Yovanovitch cites a ‘concerted campaign’ in prepared testimony before a closed-door session.
The former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine told lawmakers Friday that President Trump had been pressuring the State Department to remove her from her post for more than a year, as part of what she was told was a “concerted effort” against her.
Marie Yovanovitch, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whom Mr. Trump removed from her post in May, appeared on Capitol Hill behind closed doors as part of an expanding inquiry in Mr. Trump’s dealings in Ukraine that has metastasized into a full-blown impeachment investigation.
She had been ordered by the State Department not to testify voluntarily, necessitating a subpoena by the three Democrat-led committees in the House of Representatives, Democratic lawmakers said. Ms. Yovanovitch complied with the subpoena, testifying for several hours behind closed doors.
Mr. Trump ordered Ms. Yovanovitch’s removal after months of complaints from allies outside the administration, including his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, that she was obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, The Wall Street Journal has reported.
In her prepared testimony reviewed by the Journal, Ms. Yovanovitch recounted a conversation with the State Department’s No. 2 official, John Sullivan. Mr. Sullivan “said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018,” Ms. Yovanovitch said, according to her prepared testimony.
Ms. Yovanovitch told Congress she didn’t know why Mr. Giuliani had targeted her but suspected it was due to the influence of two of his associates. She didn’t name them, but they have been previously identified as Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.
The two men “may well have believed that their personal financial ambitions were stymied by our anti-corruption policy in Ukraine,’ Ms. Yovanovitch told Congress.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were both arrested this week on campaign-finance charges in the U.S., with prosecutors alleging that they were trying to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections and influence U.S. politics on behalf of at least one unnamed Ukrainian politician.
Ms. Yovanovitch is one of two State Department employees entangled in the controversy over Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine who agreed to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry being conducted by the Democrat-led House.
A second diplomat, Gordon Sondland, agreed to appear next week in response to a subpoena issued by the House after more than a week of uncertainty about whether he would appear.
Given that both diplomats are current government officials, questions had swirled about whether the Trump administration would allow them to testify. The White House has vowed not to cooperate in any way with the impeachment inquiry, calling it illegitimate.
But in securing the apparent cooperation of both witnesses, the House has won a major victory in its efforts to gather more information about the president’s actions on Ukraine.
The State Department earlier this week blocked Mr. Sondland from testifying voluntarily, prompting the House to subpoena him. His legal team said he will cooperate.
Mr. Sondland’s deposition is scheduled for next Thursday, when he is expected to be asked about his role in the Trump administration’s Ukraine dealings. His text messages during the summer on Ukraine—particularly ones relating to a potential trade of U.S. aid for help investigating Mr. Biden and his son—have made him a key figure of interest.
Mr. Sondland is expected to be questioned on matters including the role that he and other officials played in crafting a statement in August in which Ukraine would commit to opening a corruption investigation in exchange for a White House meeting between Mr. Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. That statement was never released.
“Ambassador Sondland will honor the Committees’ subpoena, and he looks forward to testifying on Thursday. Ambassador Sondland has at all times acted with integrity and in the interests of the United States. He has no agenda apart from answering the Committees’ questions fully and truthfully,” Mr. Sondland’s lawyers said in a statement.
Mr. Trump, in a July 25 phone call with Mr. Zelensky, called Ms. Yovanovitch “bad news” and said “she’s going to go through some things,” according to a rough transcript released by the White House.
Former colleagues describe Ms. Yovanovitch as an accomplished and nonpartisan career diplomat who would have resisted any attempt to use U.S. foreign policy to advance the president’s personal political agenda, which is the essence of Democrats’ accusations against Mr. Trump as they pursue the impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Sondland is a Trump donor and former hotel executive with no prior diplomatic experience who was nominated as ambassador in May 2018. In February, weeks after Russia seized a Ukrainian navy ship, he unofficially added Ukraine—which isn’t an EU member—to his portfolio.
The impeachment inquiry, which has been denounced by Mr. Trump and his allies, was sparked by a Central Intelligence Agency officer’s complaint regarding the July 25 phone call between the president and Mr. Zelensky.
Meanwhile, a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has resigned, a move that comes amid growing concern at the State Department over the treatment of career staff amid the Ukraine inquiry.
Michael McKinley, a former ambassador to Brazil, Afghanistan and Colombia, was a senior adviser to Mr. Pompeo and seen as a bridge between career foreign-service officers and political appointees. Mr. McKinley’s area of expertise was the Latin American region and Afghanistan, including efforts to broker an agreement to withdraw troops with the Taliban.
Mr. McKinley didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. McKinley was brought in as part of an early drive by Mr. Pompeo to bring senior foreign-service members into roles in the secretary’s inner circle. David Hale, who was ambassador to Pakistan around the time Mr. McKinley served in Afghanistan, was also brought into the inner circle as undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Gordon Sondland to Testify He Took Trump’s Denial of Ukraine Quid Pro Quo at His Word
The U.S. ambassador to the EU to say he couldn’t independently verify president’s assertion.
The U.S. ambassador to the European Union plans to tell Congress that President Trump personally assured him that there was no quid pro quo relationship between a package of aid for Ukraine and Mr. Trump’s request that the Ukrainians open investigations, including into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, according to a person familiar with the ambassador’s planned testimony.
The ambassador, Gordon Sondland, is expected to testify that he relied entirely on Mr. Trump’s assurances when he told a State Department colleague that there were “no quid pro quo’s of any kind” linking U.S. security assistance to Ukrainian investigations and that he couldn’t independently verify the president’s assertion, this person said.
The interactions between Mr. Trump and top diplomats working on issues related to Ukraine are at the center of a controversy that has sparked an impeachment inquiry by the Democratic-led House of Representatives. Mr. Sondland is scheduled to be interviewed by several committees on Thursday as part of that inquiry.
The Washington Post earlier reported on the planned testimony. The White House had no immediate comment.
In one text exchange released by congressional Democrats last week between Mr. Sondland and William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv, Mr. Taylor expressed concern that there appeared to be a link between a delay in sending almost $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine by the administration and Mr. Trump’s political interests.
Mr. Taylor texted Mr. Sondland in September: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Mr. Sondland wrote back five hours later: “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.” He added: “I suggest we stop the back and forth by text.”
Before sending that text message, Mr. Sondland spoke to the president for about five minutes by phone to ask whether there was any link between the aid and Ukraine’s agreement to launch investigations, according to the person familiar with the matter. Mr. Trump “assured him that the aid cut off was not tied in the manner Taylor suggested,” the person said.
During that call, the president seemed to Mr. Sondland preoccupied and unhappy about a matter unrelated to Ukraine, the person said.
Mr. Trump and his allies have pointed to the exchange between the two diplomats as evidence that there was never any political motive in delaying the aid package.
Mr. Sondland’s congressional testimony won’t offer any independent corroborating facts for the assertions of Mr. Trump and his allies, the person said.
The ambassador wasn’t involved in putting a hold on the aid and therefore wasn’t aware if the president was telling the truth or not, the person said. Mr. Trump ordered the aid put on hold by the White House. After complaints from lawmakers, it was released last month.
The person suggested that Mr. Sondland accepted the president’s statement as true when he heard it, or wouldn’t have passed it on to Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, have pushed to have the Ukrainian government reopen an investigation into Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter, who sat on the board of an energy company called Burisma Group while the then-vice president was leading an international anticorruption effort in Ukraine.
Mr. Trump raised the issue in a call with the new Ukrainian president July 25, asking him to “look into” Mr. Biden and his son, according to a rough transcript released by the White House last month. In that call, Mr. Trump didn’t explicitly make the aid contingent on Ukrainian cooperation on that and another investigation, according to the rough transcript, though he did remind his counterpart: “We do a lot for Ukraine.”
Mr. Sondland is expected to face several hours of questioning before congressional committees on his tenure as ambassador—including one incident where he met with Mr. Giuliani on the possibility of reopening a Burisma investigation.
Mr. Sondland and other U.S. diplomats learned in August that Ukraine was drafting a statement saying it would reopen investigations into possible election interference and other matters, The Wall Street Journal has reported. Mr. Giuliani pressed Mr. Sondland and another diplomat to make sure that it named Burisma Group.
The statement was never issued over concerns in Ukraine about being perceived as wading into U.S. electoral politics, among other matters, the Journal has previously reported. Mr. Biden is a Democratic 2020 presidential hopeful.
Mr. Sondland is expected to tell House lawmakers that he understood that Ukraine issuing the statement was a condition for a White House visit for President Volodymyr Zelensky, the person familiar with his testimony said. “In that sense, it’s a quid pro quo, although all diplomacy is quid pro quo in that sense,” the person said. Mr. Sondland didn’t view that arrangement as troubling because it was understood that combating corruption in Ukraine was a key element of U.S. foreign policy toward the country, the person said.
Nominated as ambassador in May 2018, Mr. Sondland is a former hotel executive and major donor to President Trump with no prior diplomatic experience. In February, weeks after Russia seized a Ukrainian navy ship, he unofficially added Ukraine—which isn’t an EU member—to his portfolio.
Over the next seven months, Mr. Sondland traveled to Ukraine or met with its top leaders repeatedly, presenting himself as a direct line to the White House, according to Ukrainian officials and documents released in the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Sondland’s role continued to grow after Mr. Trump in May ordered the removal of the ambassador to Ukraine after Mr. Giuliani raised concerns she was undermining Mr. Giuliani’s efforts there.
That ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, told Congress on Friday she was pushed out by what she called a “concerted campaign” led by Mr. Giuliani and other allies of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Giuliani couldn’t be reached for immediate comment.
Former Top Russia Adviser Fiona Hill Testifies On Capitol Hill About Ukraine
Appearance comes as Democrats examine Trump’s effort to get Kyiv to investigate Bidens.
President Trump’s former top Russia adviser is testifying before House committees on Monday as part of the impeachment inquiry examining the president, his administration and his allies’ dealings with Ukraine.
Fiona Hill, who served on the National Security Council, left the administration in August. She is set to be asked about her knowledge of efforts by the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to press Ukraine to mount investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, as well as possible 2016 election interference, and how those efforts intersected with the work of the NSC and the State Department.
She will also likely be asked what steps were taken within the White House to restrict access to records of some of the president’s calls with foreign leaders, including a July call in which he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Mr. Biden and other matters.
The closed-door hearing got off to a rocky start after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R., Fla.), who is not a member of one of the three committees interviewing Ms. Hill, tried to participate and was subsequently ordered to leave by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.).
Mr. Gaetz refused to leave, and Democrats brought the matter to the parliamentarian, who sided with Mr. Schiff, Mr. Gaetz said in an interview. The back-and-forth held up the hearing for about 45 minutes, he said.
“It’s not like you know, I’m on the Agriculture Committee,” he told reporters after he left. Mr. Gaetz is on the Judiciary Committee, which historically has led impeachment proceedings.
Democrats allege that Mr. Trump’s efforts to get Ukraine to launch the investigations marked an improper use of the president’s office to benefit his own re-election hopes. A whistleblower complaint filed in August, which set off the impeachment inquiry last month, alleged that following the July call there was an effort within the White House to “lock down” all records related to the call. Mr. Trump has denied wrongdoing and on Twitter Monday morning called the Democrats’ probe a “total impeachment scam.”
In a letter to Ms. Hill last week, House lawmakers requested her testimony and documents, including those related to Mr. Trump’s phone calls with his Ukrainian counterpart in April and July, communications between administration officials about those calls, and records related to Mr. Giuliani.
House lawmakers also sought from Ms. Hill documents related to Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two associates of Mr. Giuliani who were arrested last week on criminal charges stemming from their alleged efforts to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections and influence U.S. politics on behalf of at least one unnamed Ukrainian politician.
A lawyer for Ms. Hill tweeted Monday morning that his client had received a congressional subpoena for her testimony.
Ms. Hill will likely face questions about a July meeting she attended with Oleksandr Danylyuk, secretary of the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine, then-National Security Adviser John Bolton, then-U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations Kurt Volker and U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland. During that meeting, Mr. Volker asked Mr. Bolton to arrange a call later that month between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, according to a person familiar with Mr. Volker’s testimony to House lawmakers this month.
Ms. Hill, a Russia expert and staunch critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, joined the NSC in March 2017. She was succeeded by Tim Morrison, who previously headed the NSC’s office of nonproliferation.
U.S. diplomats working with Mr. Giuliani to push for a phone call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky in July invoked Mr. Morrison in text messages released by House committees earlier this month.
Mr. Volker said he had a “call into Fiona’s replacement” and would call Mr. Bolton “if needed” to tell him that Mr. Giuliani was supportive of a call between the two leaders. Mr. Sondland replied: “I talked to Tim Morrison Fiona’s replacement. He is pushing but feel free as well.”
The call between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky took place on July 25.
Mr. Sondland is expected to testify to House committees later this week. Mr. Sondland, who told another U.S. diplomat in September that there was no quid pro quo between the president’s decision to hold up nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine and his desire for Kyiv to mount certain investigations, is expected to tell lawmakers that he made that assertion based off the president’s word, according to a person familiar with the ambassador’s planned testimony.
Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine whom Mr. Trump ousted this spring amid pressure from Mr. Giuliani and others, told House lawmakers on Friday that she experienced a “concerted campaign” against her by allies of the president including Mr. Giuliani.
Federal Prosecutors Scrutinize Rudy Giuliani’s Ukraine Business Dealings, Finances
Trump lawyer’s bank records have been examined; witnesses are questioned about work for a Ukraine mayor, efforts to oust U.S. ambassador.
Federal prosecutors in Manhattan are examining Rudy Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine, including his finances, meetings and work for a city mayor there, according to people familiar with the matter.
Investigators also have examined Mr. Giuliani’s bank records, according to the people.
Witnesses have been questioned about Mr. Giuliani since at least August by investigators, who also want to know more about Mr. Giuliani’s role in an alleged conspiracy involving two of his business associates, the people said. The investigation is being led by the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York.
Mr. Giuliani has denied wrongdoing and on Monday said he hadn’t been informed of any investigation. “They can look at my Ukraine business all they want,” he said.
It couldn’t be determined how far along the investigation stands. The scope of the inquiry also isn’t known. Since April 2018, Mr. Giuliani has been President Trump’s personal lawyer, work for which he isn’t paid.
The investigation into the president’s lawyer comes as House Democrats are issuing subpoenas and deposing witnesses in the impeachment probe of Mr. Trump’s efforts with Mr. Giuliani to pressure Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, one of the front-runners for the Democratic presidential nomination.
Mr. Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were arrested last week on campaign-finance and conspiracy counts. The indictment accuses the two men of misrepresenting the sources of hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.S. campaign contributions they made, including to a former Republican congressman who was part of a lobbying effort to remove the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine that started in the spring of 2018.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were released on $1 million bonds and haven’t yet entered pleas. They are scheduled to appear in federal court in Manhattan on Thursday.
Mr. Giuliani for months pushed the administration to remove the ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch, who ultimately was recalled on Mr. Trump’s orders in May. Ms. Yovanovitch testified Friday before three congressional committees involved in the impeachment investigation.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman were also helping Mr. Giuliani investigate work in Ukraine by Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, on Mr. Trump’s behalf, and introduced Mr. Giuliani to several current and former senior Ukrainian prosecutors.
Hunter Biden was paid $50,000 a month to sit on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at a time when his father, President Obama’s vice president, was spearheading anticorruption efforts in Ukraine. Mr. Trump and his allies have described that as a corrupt arrangement. Ukrainian officials have produced no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden, and they both deny they did anything wrong.
Prosecutors’ interest in Mr. Giuliani has been previously reported by CNN and other news outlets, but the examination of Mr. Giuliani’s bank records and business dealings in Ukraine haven’t been reported.
Mr. Giuliani is best known for being mayor of New York during the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Since then, he has built up an international consulting business. Investigators have asked questions about business Mr. Giuliani conducted in Ukraine, where the former mayor began working over a decade ago, say the people familiar with the matter.
That work began shortly after he folded his 2008 Republican presidential campaign, when he announced he would be a strategic adviser to help boxer Vitali Klitschko, known as “Dr. Iron Fist,” root out corruption and win election as the mayor of Kyiv. Mr. Klitschko lost that election but became mayor in 2014 and remains in that post.
After protests in Kyiv in 2014, Mr. Klitschko negotiated a potential contract for Giuliani Security & Safety to restore order in the city. Mr. Giuliani’s fee, roughly $300,000, was too steep, and the deal wasn’t completed, the Journal previously reported.
During visits to Ukraine in 2017, he met with then-President Petro Poroshenko and then-Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko and held meetings on behalf of his private security business in Kyiv and Kharkiv.
In May 2017, Giuliani Security & Safety inked a contract with the city administration of Kharkiv to streamline municipal emergency services, according to the company. A person familiar with the negotiations said Pavel Fuks, a Kharkiv native who had made a fortune in Russian real estate, paid the contract. Mr. Fuks didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Giuliani declined to comment on that arrangement.
About a decade earlier, Mr. Fuks had negotiated with Mr. Trump to license the Trump brand for a tower that Mr. Fuks was building, with other partners, in the Russian capital’s Moscow City, Mr. Fuks said at the time. The deal didn’t come together.
Mr. Giuliani said in an interview last week that he met with the Kharkiv mayor and members of the city council on a December 2017 trip. He also met with Mr. Fuks during that trip.
Mr. Giuliani’s extensive effort to oust Ms. Yovanovitch was referenced in the indictment of Messrs. Parnas and Fruman. She was removed as ambassador after months of complaints from Mr. Giuliani and others that she was undermining Mr. Trump abroad and obstructing efforts to persuade Kyiv to investigate Mr. Biden, which she denies. She was removed three months before her customary three-year term was to end.
As part of that effort, Mr. Giuliani has said he spoke with the president, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and an unidentified White House official who asked him to recount the complaints he voiced to the president.
Mr. Giuliani has said that he spoke with Ukrainian prosecutors, including Mr. Lutsenko, as he targeted Ms. Yovanovitch, Mr. Biden and others. Mr. Lutsenko himself was dismissed in August.
Pence, Giuliani Say They Won’t Give Congress Documents In Trump Impeachment Inquiry
Vice president’s office denies records request and Trump’s personal lawyer says he won’t comply with subpoena.
The office of Vice President Mike Pence declined to comply with a records request from House committees leading an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, while Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, said he doesn’t intend to comply with a congressional subpoena for documents.
The Office of Management and Budget also didn’t comply Tuesday with a subpoena for documents about the delay in nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine, according to a senior administration official. House Democrats are seeking documents about why the aid was withheld, probing, among other matters, who was involved in the decision-making process for delaying the money.
The White House and its allies denied that the aid was withheld as part of a quid pro quo in exchange for investigations by Ukraine.
Also on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said House Democrats won’t hold a vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump despite pressure from the GOP to do so.
Democratic leadership has been asking members in battleground districts what they think about taking a House floor vote to start an impeachment inquiry, aides said, and there was initial confusion Tuesday evening over whether leaders had decided to take that step.
Many lawmakers walked into a Democratic caucus meeting thinking Mrs. Pelosi would announce a vote, a Democratic lawmaker said, after becoming aware that leadership was gauging support among Democrats.
In the end, Mrs. Pelosi said there was no requirement for a vote at this point, and it was unclear how many Democrats actually supported the idea. The topic didn’t even come up in the caucus meeting, said Rep. Ro Khanna (D., Calif.). Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) instead presented members with an update of the investigation into the whistleblower’s complaint.
A vote to start an inquiry was taken in the presidential impeachment inquiries into Presidents Nixon and Clinton but isn’t mandated under the Constitution. (The House voted to impeach Mr. Clinton, while Mr. Nixon resigned before that step.)
Thus far, the White House has refused to participate in the inquiry, but Mr. Trump said last week he would participate if the investigation were authorized by a House vote and if Democrats commit to following rules he views as fair.
Republicans have pushed for a vote, saying it would give them subpoena power based on the precedent of past impeachments, though Sarah Binder, a political-science professor at George Washington University, said that House rules have changed in the past few decades to give committees the same subpoena powers they had during impeachments.
“A resolution should be passed on the floor immediately calling for an inquiry for impeachment,” said Rep. Michael McCaul of Texas, the top Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “The American people are not participants in this process, because they, cannot through their representatives, vote for it.”
The Defense Department, meanwhile, faced a deadline Tuesday to turn over documents to Congress as part of the inquiry. The department had no comment but Mr. Schiff said at a news conference that initial signals that the Pentagon would comply appeared to have been overridden by the White House.
The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
“The secretary of defense on Sunday stated that he would comply with the congressional subpoenas. Well, apparently his willingness to comply has now been countermanded by a higher authority,” Mr. Schiff said. “We must presume that the president of the United States has instructed the Defense Department not to comply or has done so through the White House counsel.”
The Wall Street Journal has reported that a political official, Michael Duffey, was given authority to hold up the money after career staff questioned the legality of the delay. Mr. Duffey also now signs off on the process for approving and releasing funds for other foreign aid and defense accounts, a breach from precedent.
Tuesday’s moves escalate the battle between the Trump administration and House Democrats, who are focusing on Mr. Trump’s July call with his Ukrainian counterpart. In that call, Mr. Trump pressed for investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and Mr. Biden’s son Hunter. Hunter Biden served on the board of Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings Ltd. while his father oversaw U.S. policy on Ukraine as vice president. Both have denied any wrongdoing.
Mr. Trump has said there was nothing wrong with what he said on the call and has called the Democratic probe a witch hunt. Mr. Giuliani has said that he worked in conjunction with the State Department and that there was nothing wrong with his efforts to press Ukraine to investigate the Bidens.
Mr. Pence’s office, in denying the request, reiterated the administration’s argument that the process isn’t being conducted fairly and denies due process by, for example, not holding a vote on whether to open an impeachment inquiry.
“Never before in history has the Speaker of the House attempted to launch an ‘impeachment inquiry’ against a President without a majority of the House of Representatives voting to authorize a constitutionally acceptable process,” reads a letter sent by the vice president’s office Tuesday evening to the chairmen of the investigating committees.
Mr. Giuliani said his lawyer Jon Sale sent a letter to Congress, saying he wouldn’t comply with the subpoena. Mr. Sale is no longer representing him, Mr. Giuliani said.
If Mr. Giuliani doesn’t comply, the official said, “we will be forced to consider this as additional evidence of obstruction, and may infer that the evidence withheld would substantiate the accusations of President Trump’s misconduct and efforts to cover it up.”
The committees have made similar statements about the White House’s refusal to comply with their subpoenas and about the administration’s efforts to block government witnesses from testifying to Congress.
Mindful of Caucus Resistance, House Democrats Avoid Impeachment Vote
Trump calls for formal procedure but Democratic leadership remains wary of tipping scales against vulnerable swing-district members.
House Democratic leadership is holding off on a vote to launch a formal impeachment inquiry for now, a move that could have upended a central Republican argument but also put vulnerable Democrats at risk.
The issue of a vote has divided the Democratic caucus, with some members willing to go ahead with one and others worried it would spur more political attack ads targeting them or make them look like they were falling to President Trump’s goading.
“I don’t think a vote is necessary, as far as the legitimacy of the process,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, a Virginia Democrat who beat a Republican last year. She supports the inquiry.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) asked Whip Jim Clyburn (D., S.C.) to survey the caucus, a leadership aide said, to know what the members thought of a vote. A vote authorizing the impeachment inquiry was taken in the two previous impeachment probes into Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, but isn’t mandated under the Constitution.
“There’s no requirement that we have a vote, and at this time, we will not have a vote,” Mrs. Pelosi said Tuesday evening.
Mrs. Pelosi has been focused on gauging the position of the caucus through the continuing investigation. While nearly all House Democrats support the investigation, some in competitive districts pushed back on having vote, a lawmaker said, worried it could be seen as supporting impeachment itself and not simply supporting the probe into efforts by the president and his lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to press Ukraine to mount investigations into the Bidens.
Mr. Trump has said there was nothing wrong with what he said on the July call to his Ukrainian counterpart that led to the opening of the inquiry, and has called the Democratic probe a witch hunt.
“The question to me is not whether it risks the majority, the question to me is following principle and the rule of law,” said Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat who flipped a seat last election cycle, though that was a district Hillary Clinton won in 2016. He supports a vote on opening the inquiry.
Thus far, the White House has refused to participate in the investigation, not producing documents and telling staff to decline invitations to appear. But Mr. Trump said last week he would participate if the probe was authorized by a House vote and if Democrats commit to following rules he views as fair, though he gave no explanation of what those rules should be. Mr. Trump also hasn’t complied with subpoenas for House investigations outside of the inquiry.
“We’re not here to call bluffs,” Mrs. Pelosi said Tuesday. “We’re here to find the truth, to uphold the Constitution of the United States. This is not a game for us. This is deadly serious.”
A different Democratic leadership aide said a vote was still possible, just not in the early days of the inquiry, during which hearings are held behind closed-doors, so as to not allow those testifying to see what the others have said. At some point, Democrats plan to publicize their findings, though how they will do so hasn’t been articulated.
In the case of Mr. Nixon, a full House vote came months after the House started its investigation.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said Republican discussion of the process of the impeachment inquiry is also meant to distract from the substance of Mr. Trump’s behavior.
“We’re hearing talks about process,” he said. “The processes being pursued are consistent with the Constitution and the laws.”
Republicans have pushed for a vote, saying it would give them subpoena power based on the precedent of past impeachments, but Sarah Binder, a political-science professor at George Washington University, said the point may be moot because House rules have changed to essentially give committees the same subpoena powers they had during past impeachment investigations.
For example, Ms. Binder said, in 1998, during Mr. Clinton’s impeachment investigation, House committees didn’t hold subpoena power. The House voted to authorize a committee to issue a subpoena. In that case the chairman and ranking member were supposed to be in agreement, though a disagreement could be overruled with a committee vote. Now, many committees have power to subpoena documents.
Polls have suggested that public support for an inquiry has ticked up as more revelations about Mr. Trump and Ukraine have emerged, though there is still a strong partisan divide.
A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released last week showed that 31% of Americans support the House impeachment inquiry that House Speaker Pelosi launched last month, while an additional 24% say enough evidence already exists for lawmakers to remove Mr. Trump from office.
Bu the poll showed some 84% of Democrats say the accusations against Mr. Trump are serious and merit investigation, while 78% of Republicans agree with the statement that the accusations are “more of the same politically motivated attacks.”
Mulvaney Says Holdup of Ukraine Aid Was Related to Trump’s Demand for 2016 Election Probe
President has expressed suspicion the hacked DNC server from the U.S. presidential race is hidden in Ukraine.
A top White House official said President Trump’s decision to hold up aid to Ukraine this summer was tied to his demand that Kyiv investigate events related to the 2016 U.S. election, the first time the White House has acknowledged a link between the withheld aid and probes that Mr. Trump was seeking.
Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said that Mr. Trump’s concerns about alleged corruption in Ukraine—including an unfounded suspicion the president has expressed that the hacked Democratic National Committee server has since been hidden in Ukraine—were partly responsible for Mr. Trump’s order to hold nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in July.
“We do that all of the time with foreign policy,” Mr. Mulvaney said, referring to the decision to withhold aid out of corruption concerns. “The look back to what happened in 2016 certainly was part of the thing that he was worried about in corruption with that nation. And that is absolutely appropriate.”
The president has repeatedly said that the driving force behind his decision to hold up the aid was that he felt European nations weren’t doing enough to help Ukraine, a concern that Mr. Mulvaney repeated on Thursday. The Europeans are “really, really stingy when it comes to lethal aid,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “Did [the president] also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely. No question about that. That’s it, and that’s why we held up the money.”
Mr. Trump released the aid in September under pressure from Congress.
Mr. Mulvaney’s comments come as the president has repeatedly denied a quid pro quo between the aid and the investigations he has sought Ukraine to undertake, which have sparked the House’s impeachment inquiry.
Senate Ukraine Probe Takes Narrow Approach
Unlike its House counterpart, the Senate Intelligence Committee is focused on the process, not the substance of the Ukraine controversy.
The House impeachment inquiry has set a brisk pace with subpoenas and closed-door depositions in the weeks since the revelation of a whistleblower report on President Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. But across the U.S. Capitol in the GOP-controlled Senate, another closed-door inquiry into the complaint has fallen quiet.
Sen. Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate’s secretive Select Committee on Intelligence, warned when he announced his panel’s inquiry into the whistleblower complaint last month that it wouldn’t move at the same “light speed,” as the House’s. The Senate Intelligence Committee has a reputation in the Senate for bipartisan cooperation, but also for probes that move slowly, hidden from the public eye.
Three weeks after questioning acting Director of National Intelligence Joe Maguire and Michael Atkinson, the intelligence community’s inspector general, Mr. Burr’s committee has yet to announce any new witnesses, and the North Carolina Republican has said he doesn’t see the actual allegations of wrongdoing in the complaint as within the Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction.
“The content is not our jurisdiction. The process very much is our jurisdiction,” Mr. Burr said. “So Michael Atkinson, Joe McGuire, they are people that potentially were involved with referrals or receiving referrals and action that was taken. That’s very pertinent to what we’re looking at.”
He added, “You know, I’ll leave it to the House to carry out impeachment, that’s not what we’re doing.”
There is little incentive for Mr. Burr or other Senate Republicans to tackle such a potentially explosive subject aggressively in their chamber, especially when their committees’ work could swiftly be overtaken by a public impeachment trial in the coming weeks. So it has become a political hot potato.
One Senate panel that could claim jurisdiction over concerns outlined in the whistleblower complaint about President Trump’s phone call with the president of Ukraine is the Foreign Relations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jim Risch (R., Idaho).
Mr. Risch referred a reporter to Mr. Burr on Thursday when asked whether his committee might call some of the State Department officials who have been deposed in the House.
“You would have to talk to Sen. Burr about that,” he said. Mr. Risch said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “has made it clear that the whole thing has been put in [Sen. Burr’s] lap.”
Mr. McConnell said last month that the Intelligence Committee was the appropriate venue in the Senate for looking into the whistleblower complaint.
“The leader was just reflecting what the law states: that the whistleblower report comes through and then there’s an investigation in the Senate, and it’s the Senate Intelligence Committee’s jurisdiction,” said a senior GOP aide familiar with the matter. The aide said it was too hypothetical to talk about anything beyond the inquiry’s early stages.
Mr. Burr told reporters on Wednesday that he is waiting on the whistleblower, who hasn’t made himself or herself available to testify before the committee.
Asked what the holdup was, Mr. Burr responded, “They’re not interested.”
The legal team representing the initial whistleblower and at least one additional individual who has come forward has offered to cooperate on equal footing with both the House and Senate intelligence committees. It has asked to submit responses to questions in writing, a person familiar with the matter said.
The committees haven’t decided whether to accept the offer of written questions as an option, the person said.
In a signal reflecting the impasse in negotiations, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said last week that his panel might not ultimately hear testimony from the whistleblower due to safety concerns. Mr. Schiff said that the rough transcript of the call and whistleblower complaint, in addition to testimony from others, already provided ample evidence to support the impeachment inquiry.
But in the Senate, the whistleblower is central to Mr. Burr’s inquiry, which the senator said is focused on whether the person’s complaint was handled properly, and not on the alleged wrongdoing outlined in the complaint, which flagged concerns about a phone call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate the son of his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Hunter Biden served on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company, while his father was the Obama administration’s point person on Ukrainian corruption issues. Both Bidens have denied wrongdoing and said they never discussed Hunter’s business in Ukraine.
The top Democrat on Mr. Burr’s committee, Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) has pushed back on the idea that the Senate Intelligence inquiry should be restricted to process matters.
“We have to sort through all of this, and there are process questions about the whistleblower, but counterintelligence is the heart and soul of our jurisdiction,” Mr. Warner told CNN last week.
“We have to check out the whole content; that’s part of it,” he said.
Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee have similarly been pressing Mr. Risch to hold hearings on Ukraine.
Diplomat Faces Questions About Ukraine Aid
Bill Taylor raised concerns with other officials about possible quid pro quo regarding investigations related to U.S. elections.
A top U.S. diplomat in Kyiv faced questions from lawmakers behind closed doors Tuesday, with a central focus expected to be why he believed nearly $400 million in U.S. aid to Ukraine was contingent on Kyiv undertaking investigations seen as potentially benefiting President Trump politically.
Bill Taylor, a former ambassador to Ukraine who has served in that role in an acting capacity since this spring, was expected to be asked by House committees about the concerns he raised with other U.S. diplomats about a perceived link between security assistance to Ukraine and investigations related to the 2016 election as well as 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son.
One lawmaker who sat in on the session said he found Mr. Taylor’s testimony to be alarming.
“All I have to say is that in my 10 short months in Congress—it’s not even noon, right—and this is my most disturbing day in Congress so far. Very troubling,” said Rep. Andy Levin (D., Mich.) as he left the deposition in the late morning. He didn’t elaborate. Rep. Ami Bera (D., Calif.) said Mr. Taylor was being “pretty candid” but didn’t comment on what he said.
“Nothing new here,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), a top ally of Mr. Trump on Capitol Hill. He added that he hadn’t seen any witness so far suggest that there was a quid pro quo involving U.S. aid to Ukraine.
An official working on the impeachment inquiry said the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena for Mr. Taylor’s testimony on Tuesday morning after the State Department sought to direct the ambassador not to appear for his deposition. Mr. Taylor is complying with the subpoena, the official said.
Mr. Taylor is the latest in a series of diplomats and other officials who have testified before House committees as part of the impeachment inquiry into interactions between Mr. Trump, his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine.
Democrats have accused the president of abusing the power of his office by pressing a foreign leader to mount investigations that could benefit his re-election campaign. Mr. Trump has defended his actions regarding Ukraine as “perfect” and has called the inquiry a “hoax.” He has denied that aid for Ukraine was contingent on Kyiv launching new probes.
Text messages released by House committees earlier this month showed Mr. Taylor on a handful of occasions raised alarms about how Mr. Trump was conducting foreign policy toward Ukraine, particularly the president’s decision in mid-July to order a hold on aid to Ukraine. The aid was released last month.
On Sept. 1, he texted Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union: “Are we now saying that security assistance and WH meeting are conditioned on investigations?” Mr. Sondland responded: “Call me.”
Over a week later, Mr. Taylor wrote in a text message to Mr. Sondland and Kurt Volker, then the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, that he was concerned about the effect the held aid was having. “The message to the Ukrainians (and Russians) we send with the decision on security assistance is key. With the hold, we have already shaken their faith in us. Thus my nightmare scenario.”
Mr. Taylor added: “I think it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign.”
Mr. Sondland, who testified before House committees last week, subsequently spoke to the president for about five minutes by phone to ask whether there was any link between the aid and Ukraine’s agreement to launch investigations, according to his opening statement. Mr. Trump denied the existence of any quid pro quo.
Mr. Sondland subsequently sent a text message to Mr. Taylor saying he believed Mr. Taylor was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions.” He added: “The President has been crystal clear no quid pro quo’s of any kind.”
Last week, acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told reporters that Mr. Trump wanted Ukraine to open a new investigation related to the 2016 election, among other demands, in return for the aid. Mr. Mulvaney later reversed himself and said that wasn’t the case.
Mr. Taylor will likely be asked whether he ever raised his concerns about security aid to others at the State Department, and whether other colleagues expressed misgivings.
Mr. Taylor expressed discomfort to his colleagues about the efforts to recruit Ukraine to serve Mr. Trump politically, according to the texts released by the House committees, and repeatedly linked those efforts to the withheld security aid. “The nightmare is they give the interview and don’t get security assistance,” Mr. Taylor texted on Sept. 8. “The Russians love it. (And I quit.)”
The interview he mentioned referred to a proposal for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to give a media interview in which he would commit to certain investigations Mr. Trump had sought.
Mr. Taylor most recently served as executive vice president of the U.S. Institute for Peace and served as ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. He was tapped as chargé d’affaires ad interim for Ukraine in June, a month after Mr. Trump ordered the ouster of the former ambassador, Marie Yovanovitch.
Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani have argued, without evidence, that Mr. Biden’s anticorruption push in Ukraine while vice president was designed to head off any investigation of Ukraine’s Burisma Holdings, where his son Hunter Biden sat on the board. Both Bidens have denied wrongdoing and said they never discussed the younger Mr. Biden’s business in Ukraine.
Mr. Trump has also called for Ukraine to investigate a Democratic National Committee computer server that he has claimed is now in Ukraine. That call relates to an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory that proposes it was Ukraine, not Russia, that hacked Democratic networks during the 2016 election. There is no evidence to support the claim that any Democratic server wound up in Ukraine.
More testimony is expected in coming days. Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary for defense, is expected to testify in closed session on Wednesday; and Phil Reeker, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, is expected to testify in closed session on Saturday, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry.
The committees leading the impeachment inquiry are in ongoing discussions and hope to hear from additional witnesses, the official said.
House Republicans continued to criticize Democrats over the inquiry, complaining it was operating in secret. Only two transcripts—those of Ms. Yovanovitch and Mr. Volker—are available so far, said Rep. Elise Stefanik (R., N.Y.). There is only one copy of each transcript made available, and lawmakers may view them only when accompanied by a Democratic staffer, she said.
Democrats argue that the inquiry is in its early, fact-finding stage, and they have an interest in the witnesses not knowing what previous witness have testified. They point to previous House investigations that have had closed-door depositions and said they intended to make the testimonies public.
THE UKRAINE WITNESSES
- Oct. 3: Kurt Volker, former U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations, testifies and hands over text messages with other State Department officials that showed officials attempting to use a potential meeting between Mr. Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart as leverage to press Kyiv to investigate Joe Biden.
- Oct. 11: Marie Yovanovitch, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, testifies that Mr. Trump sought for over a year to remove her and that his allies, including Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, targeted her in a “concerted campaign.”
- Oct. 14: Fiona Hill, President Trump’s former top Russia adviser, testifies that she and other White House officials grew so alarmed by the administration’s efforts to push Ukraine to open certain investigations that they raised objections with a White House lawyer.
- Oct. 15: George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state, gives testimony that supports the findings in the August whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry, a Democratic lawmaker says.
- Oct. 16: Michael McKinley, former top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, testifies that he left his post over frustration with Mr. Pompeo regarding the treatment of Ms. Yovanovitch.
- Oct. 17: Gordon Sondland, U.S. ambassador to the European Union, criticizes President Trump over his efforts to enlist Ukraine in investigating a political rival and says he and other U.S. officials were “disappointed” by the president’s directive to work with Mr. Giuliani on Ukraine matters.
Scheduled To Testify:
- Oct. 22: William Taylor, chargé d’affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv
- Oct. 23: Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs
- Oct. 23: Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs in the Office of Management and Budget. OMB Director Russell Vought said Mr. Duffy would not comply with the deposition request.
- Oct. 24: Laura Cooper, Defense Department official overseeing Ukraine
- Oct. 24: Alexander Vindman, the director for European Affairs at the National Security Council
- Oct. 26: Philip Reeker, acting assistant secretary of European and Eurasian affairs, said that top officials stymied a show of solidarity for Ms. Yovanovitch.
- Oct. 29: Lt. Col. lexander Vindman, the director of European affairs at the National Security Council who attended the Ukrainian president’s inauguration in May.
- Oct. 30: Catherine Croft, who served at State as special adviser for Ukraine, says Mr. Trump repeatedly described Ukraine as corrupt while deciding whether to provide the country with Javelin missile systems. [Statement] Christopher Anderson, who was a special adviser to Mr. Volker, the former U.S. envoy for Ukraine negotiations, says Mr. Bolton warned U.S. diplomats in June that Rudy Giuliani could pose an obstacle to improving relations with Ukraine. [Statement]
- Oct. 31: Tim Morrison, the National Security Council director for Russia and Europe, testifies he was told that a hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine was tied to efforts to push Kyiv to investigate the Bidens. He also said he heard nothing illegal of the Trump-Zelensky call.
Scheduled To Testify:
- Oct. 30: Kathryn Wheelbarger, the acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs; Catherine Croft, who served at the State Department as special adviser for Ukraine; Christopher Anderson, who was a special adviser to Kurt Volker, the former U.S. envoy for Ukraine negotiations
- Oct. 31: Tim Morrison, the National Security Council’s Russia and Europe director
Mick Mulvaney Says, “It Happens All The Time, I Have News For Everybody: Get Over It.”
White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney says, “It Happens All The Time, I Have News For Everybody: Get Over It. There Is Going To Be Political Influence In Foreign Policy.”
‘Get Over It’: Trump campaign sells T-shirts following Mulvaney quid pro quo comments
President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign started selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “GET OVER IT” on Friday, seeming to embrace comments made by White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney the day before.
During a rare White House press briefing, Mulvaney told reporters on Thursday, “Did (Trump) also mention to me in passing the corruption related to the DNC server? Absolutely… That’s it. That’s why we held up the money,” acknowledging the White House had frozen military aid as leverage over Ukraine.
“It happens all the time” Mulvaney told reporters, saying, “I have news for everybody: Get over it. There is going to be political influence in foreign policy.”
The T-shirts come as Mulvaney has attempted to walk back his remarks, which were widely interpreted to contradict the president’s consistent claims there was “no quid pro quo” in his conversation with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. Mulvaney blamed the media for “misconstruing” the comments “to advance a biased and political witch hunt against President Trump.”
Mulvaney was criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, and conservative Fox News host Sean Hannity called the acting White House Chief of Staff “dumb.”
Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said in a statement Friday, “Americans should call their members of Congress and tell them: get over it and get back to work!”
“Life isn’t a movie and there are real issues facing Americans today that Washington politicians are not addressing because they’re obsessed with theatrical witch hunts against their political rivals,” he continued.
Mulvaney’s comments come during a week where multiple individuals have testified before Congress regarding the impeachment inquiry into the President.
Trump encouraged Zelensky during a July 25 phone call to investigate a conspiracy theory about Kyiv’s involvement in the DNC server hack, as well as allegations against former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.
Army Officer Who Heard Trump’s Ukraine Call Reported Concerns
The top Ukraine expert at the White House will tell impeachment investigators he twice reported concerns about President Trump’s pressure tactics on Ukraine, acting out of a “sense of duty.”
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, in a photo posted on Twitter by the American Embassy in Kiev in May. “I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen,” he plans to tell impeachment investigators.
A White House national security official who is a decorated Iraq war veteran plans to tell House impeachment investigators on Tuesday that he heard President Trump appeal to Ukraine’s president to investigate one of his leading political rivals, a request the aide considered so damaging to American interests that he reported it to a superior.
Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman of the Army, the top Ukraine expert on the National Security Council, twice registered internal objections about how Mr. Trump and his inner circle were treating Ukraine, out of what he called a “sense of duty,” he plans to tell the inquiry, according to a draft of his opening statement obtained by The New York Times.
He will be the first White House official to testify who listened in on the July 25 telephone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine that is at the center of the impeachment inquiry, in which Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”
Burisma Holdings is an energy company on whose board Mr. Biden’s son served while his father was vice president.
“This would all undermine U.S. national security,” Colonel Vindman added, referring to Mr. Trump’s comments in the call.
The colonel, a Ukrainian-American immigrant who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq by a roadside bomb and whose statement is full of references to duty and patriotism, could be a more difficult witness to dismiss than his civilian counterparts.
“I am a patriot,” Colonel Vindman plans to tell the investigators, “and it is my sacred duty and honor to advance and defend our country irrespective of party or politics.”
He was to be interviewed privately on Tuesday by the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight and Reform Committees, in defiance of a White House edict not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
The colonel, who is represented by Michael Volkov, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment for this article.
In his testimony, Colonel Vindman plans to say that he is not the whistle-blower who initially reported Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine. But he will provide an account that corroborates and fleshes out crucial elements in that complaint, which prompted Democrats to open their impeachment investigation.
“I did convey certain concerns internally to national security officials in accordance with my decades of experience and training, sense of duty, and obligation to operate within the chain of command,” he plans to say.
He will testify that he watched with alarm as “outside influencers” began pushing a “false narrative” about Ukraine that was counter to the consensus view of American national security officials, and harmful to United States interests. According to documents reviewed by The Times on the eve of his congressional testimony, Colonel Vindman was concerned as he discovered that Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, was leading an effort to prod Kiev to investigate Mr. Biden’s son, and to discredit efforts to investigate Mr. Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his business dealings in Ukraine.
His account strongly suggests that he may have been among the aides the whistle-blower referred to in his complaint when he wrote that White House officials had recounted the conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky to him, and “were deeply disturbed by what had transpired in the phone call.”
Colonel Vindman did not interact directly with the president, but was present for a series of conversations that shed light on his pressure campaign on Ukraine.
He will also testify that he confronted Gordon D. Sondland, the United States ambassador to the European Union, the day the envoy spoke in a White House meeting with Ukrainian officials about “Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the president.”
Even as he expressed alarm about the pressure campaign, the colonel and other officials worked to keep the United States relationship with Ukraine on track. At the direction of his superiors at the National Security Council, including John R. Bolton, then the national security adviser, Colonel Vindman drafted a memorandum in mid-August that sought to restart security aid that was being withheld from Ukraine, but Mr. Trump refused to sign it, according to documents reviewed by the Times. And he drafted a letter in May congratulating Mr. Zelensky on his inauguration, but Mr. Trump did not sign that either, according to the documents.
Colonel Vindman was concerned after he learned that the White House budget office had taken the unusual step of withholding the $391 million package of security assistance for Ukraine that had been approved by Congress. At least one previous witness has testified that Mr. Trump directed that the aid be frozen until he could secure a commitment from Mr. Zelensky to announce an investigation of the Bidens.
While Colonel Vindman’s concerns were shared by a number of other officials, some of whom have already testified, he was in a unique position. Because he emigrated from Ukraine along with his family when he was a child and is fluent in Ukrainian and Russian, Ukrainian officials sought advice from him about how to deal with Mr. Giuliani, though they typically communicated in English.
On two occasions, the colonel brought his concerns to John A. Eisenberg, the top lawyer at the National Security Council. The first came on July 10. That day, senior American officials met with senior Ukrainian officials at the White House, in a stormy meeting in which Mr. Bolton is said to have had a tense exchange with Mr. Sondland after the ambassador raised the matter of investigations he wanted Ukraine to undertake. That meeting has been described in previous testimony in the impeachment inquiry.
At a debriefing later that day attended by the colonel, Mr. Sondland again urged Ukrainian officials to help with investigations into Mr. Trump’s political rivals.
“Ambassador Sondland emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens and Burisma,” Colonel Vindman said in his draft statement.
“I stated to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate” and that the “request to investigate Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security, and that such investigations were not something the N.S.C. was going to get involved in or push,” he added.
The colonel’s account echoed the testimony of Fiona Hill, one of his superiors, who has previously testified behind closed doors that she and Mr. Bolton were angered by efforts to politicize the interactions with Ukraine.
The colonel said that after his confrontation with Mr. Sondland, “Dr. Hill then entered the room and asserted to Ambassador Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.”
Ms. Hill, the former senior director for European and Russian affairs, also reported the incident to Mr. Eisenberg.
The colonel went to Mr. Eisenberg a couple of weeks later, after the president’s call with Mr. Zelensky. This time, the colonel was accompanied by his identical twin brother, Yevgeny, who is a lawyer on the National Security Council.
The picture painted by Colonel Vindman’s testimony has been echoed by several other senior officials, including William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Ukraine, who testified last week that multiple senior administration officials had told him that the president blocked security aid to Ukraine and would not meet with Mr. Zelensky until he publicly pledged to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals.
While the White House has urged witnesses subpoenaed by Congress not to participate in the impeachment inquiry, failing to comply with a congressional subpoena would be a risky career move for an active-duty military officer.
As tensions grew over Ukraine policy, the White House appears to have frozen out Colonel Vindman. Since early August, he has been excluded from a number of relevant meetings and events, including a diplomatic trip to three countries under his purview: Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus.
Colonel Vindman said he had reported concerns up his chain of command because he believed he was obligated to do so.
“On many occasions I have been told I should express my views and share my concerns with my chain of command and proper authorities,” he said. “I believe that any good military officer should and would do the same, thus providing his or her best advice to leadership.”
House Panels Hear Official’s Concerns About Trump’s Ukraine Call
White House aide Alexander Vindman also will testify Sondland made Ukraine meeting contingent on probes.
House committees heard testimony on Tuesday from an official who listened in on the pivotal July 25 call between President Trump and his Ukrainian counterpart and said he was so alarmed by the call that he reported his concerns to a White House lawyer.
In the call, Mr. Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open investigations into matters related to the 2016 election and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. Those requests, and a temporary hold on aid to Ukraine, are at the center of House Democrats’ impeachment probe.
Separately, House Democrats released a resolution laying out how public hearings in their impeachment investigation will be conducted. The resolution sets equal time for questioning for both the majority and minority party, of up to 45 minutes per side, and it allows Republicans to request witnesses, subject to approval by the Democrats. A vote is expected on Thursday, according to Democratic aides.
The rules are broadly similar to those followed in previous impeachment hearings and will allow the president and his counsel to participate in the process. The inquiry delegates authority to the House Intelligence Committee to conduct the hearings.
Republicans have criticized the inquiry as illegitimate, saying that damage to the president has been done through a series of closed-door hearings. A federal judge late last week determined that the House inquiries have legal standing as an impeachment investigation.
In testimony Tuesday, Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the director of European affairs at the National Security Council, said he was concerned by Mr. Trump’s July 25 call because he didn’t think it was appropriate to ask another country to investigate a U.S. citizen. According to his opening statement obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Lt. Col. Vindman said he was worried that the requests could be viewed as a “partisan play” that would cause Ukraine to lose the bipartisan support that is the basis for years of American aid in Ukraine’s fight against Russian aggression.
Lt. Col. Vindman was the ninth witness to be interviewed by Democratic-led committees and the first person who was on the summer call to speak before the panels. His testimony comes as Democrats prepare to launch a new phase of the investigation that will include public hearings and release transcripts of witnesses who have testified previously.
Robert Blair, a senior adviser to acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, is expected to testify in private on Friday, an official working on the impeachment inquiry said. Mr. Blair was among the officials who listened in on the July 25 Trump-Zelensky call.
Mr. Mulvaney in a briefing earlier this month linked the hold on aid to investigations the president wanted Ukraine to pursue, before later walking that back. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Blair’s testimony.
Lt. Col. Vindman reported to Fiona Hill, the NSC’s former top Russia adviser, who has already testified. Ms. Hill in turn reported to John Bolton, the former national security adviser. Lt. Col. Vindman, who was three years old when his family emigrated from Ukraine in the former Soviet Union, served in Iraq and was awarded a Purple Heart.
Lt. Col. Vindman said that he raised concerns to colleagues inside the White House about two critical moments—the July 25 phone call between Mr. Trump and Ukraine’s President Zelensky, as well as a July 10 meeting that Lt. Col. Vindman attended between White House and Ukrainian officials. After both, Lt. Col. Vindman said he reported his concerns to the National Security Council’s lead counsel.
Lt. Col. Vindman, who appeared pursuant to a subpoena, said that at the July 10 meeting, U.S. ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland started speaking about Ukraine delivering specific investigations to secure a meeting with Mr. Trump when Mr. Bolton cut the meeting short. Lt. Col. Vindman said that at a debriefing after the meeting, Mr. Sondland “emphasized the importance that Ukraine deliver the investigations into the 2016 election, the Bidens, and Burisma,” the Ukrainian company where Hunter Biden was a board member.
In his prepared testimony, Lt. Col. Vindman said that he then told Mr. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate as the request to investigate Mr. Biden and his son had nothing to do with national security.
Mr. Sondland, in his own testimony earlier this month, acknowledged raising investigations in the July 10 meeting but said he doesn’t recall any NSC officials expressing concerns to him. His testimony is at odds with that of Lt. Col. Vindman; Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine who testified last week; and Ms. Hill, who testified earlier this month.
Mr. Sondland’s lawyer declined to comment on Lt. Col. Vindman’s testimony.
Mr. Trump sought to play down the testimony Tuesday morning, tweeting: “Why are people that I never even heard of testifying about the call.” He added: “How many more Never Trumpers will be allowed to testify about a perfectly appropriate phone call when all anyone has to do is READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”
The White House, under pressure from Capitol Hill after an unnamed whistleblower filed a complaint about the call, released the rough transcript of the July 25 call last month.
Mr. Trump has lashed out at that whistleblower, known to be a Central Intelligence Agency officer, and has pushed for his identity to be revealed. Lt. Col. Vindman said in his prepared testimony that he isn’t the whistleblower and doesn’t know who it is, but Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D., Fla.) accused Republicans of using their questioning time at Tuesday’s closed-door hearing to seek clues from Lt. Col. Vindman over the whistleblower’s identity.
“Most of their hour seemed to have been spent trying to backdoor him into narrowing down, for them, who the whistleblower is,” she said. “And they have been repeatedly halted from being able to do that.”
Republicans emerged from the deposition complaining that Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) had blocked what they said was a legitimate line of questioning over whom Lt. Col. Vindman had spoken to about his concerns.
“He’s under subpoena—he’s supposed to answer the questions we have during our hour, and Chairman Schiff instructed him not to answer those questions,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio).
“The witness has made decisions and has opinions based on who he has had conversations with,” said Rep. Scott Perry (R., Pa.). “We need to determine the veracity of that information and his opinions, based on the conversations he’s had.”
Meanwhile, some allies of the president, including Fox News host Laura Ingraham and former Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), questioned on cable news shows whether Lt. Col. Vindman’s stance on Ukraine and Mr. Trump’s comments was related to his being born there, and they questioned his motivations. But prominent House Republicans rejected doubts about his loyalty or patriotism.
“We’re talking about decorated veterans who have served this nation,” said Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.), a member of GOP leadership. “And it is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this nation, and we should not be involved in that process.”
Democrats panned the criticism of Lt. Col. Vindman.
“If that’s all they’ve got, to question the patriotism of a lieutenant colonel who took a bullet for us and has a Purple Heart on the battlefield, well, good luck to them,” said Rep. Ron Kind (D., Wis.). “My goodness.”
Lt. Col. Vindman’s brief opening statement sheds no light on another facet of the controversy involving Ukraine—the holdup of nearly $400 million of aid to Ukraine over the summer. The hold on U.S. aid to Ukraine came at the request of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney on direction from Mr. Trump.
Diplomat Sondland Told Ukrainians Held-Up Aid Was Tied to Investigations
In revised testimony, envoy is latest impeachment witness to link assistance to Trump’s political wishes.
A U.S. diplomat who is a key witness in the House impeachment probe told Ukrainians over the summer that aid to that country would continue to be held up until Kyiv committed to investigations that President Trump had been seeking, according to a revised statement to investigators.
The testimony by Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, makes him the latest witness to describe a purported quid pro quo between nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine and investigations into Democrat Joe Biden and alleged election interference that Mr. Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were pushing Kyiv to announce.
Mr. Sondland’s conversation with Andriy Yermak, the aide to Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky, about the aid had been previously described in testimony by Bill Taylor, the acting ambassador to Ukraine. But Mr. Sondland’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, previously said Mr. Sondland didn’t recall that conversation. Tim Morrison, a national-security official, also described the conversation in testimony last week.
In a Monday addendum to his testimony that he gave last month, Mr. Sondland said his memory had been refreshed by the testimony of Messrs. Taylor and Morrison. “By the beginning of September 2019, and in the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I presumed that the aid suspension had become linked to the proposed anti-corruption statement,” Mr. Sondland said.
He said he told Mr. Yermak on Sept. 1 that “the resumption of U.S. aid would likely not occur until Ukraine provided the public anti-corruption statement that we had been discussing for many weeks.”
The statement that Mr. Sondland and other U.S. officials had been discussing was to specifically address Burisma Group, a Ukrainian gas company where Mr. Biden’s son, Hunter, had sat on the board, and alleged election interference, according to congressional testimony.
In text messages in the following days, however, Mr. Sondland continued to deny that the delivery of aid was dependent on those investigations.
The new comments by Mr. Sondland were included in transcripts released by House committees on Tuesday. The committees also released the transcript of testimony by Kurt Volker, the U.S. special representative for Ukraine negotiations who left his post last month.
Mr. Sondland’s testimony makes him at least the fourth witness in the impeachment inquiry to testify that the U.S. aid was linked to a push to have Ukraine investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals. The aid was later unfrozen amid an outcry in Congress.
Mr. Trump has said his pressure campaign on Ukraine wasn’t improper.
First Public Hearings in Impeachment Inquiry to Begin Next Week
Ambassador Bill Taylor, State official George Kent to testify on Nov. 13.
The House Intelligence Committee will begin public hearings next week related to the Trump impeachment probe, with two State Department officials along with the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine scheduled to appear, the chairman of the panel said Wednesday.
The appearances of U.S. envoy Bill Taylor and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent next Wednesday, followed by former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch on Friday, will mark the start of a new phase for the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. All three witnesses have already testified behind closed doors, but their public comments will be the first chance for the public to hear from them directly and evaluate their credibility.
The hearings were announced by intelligence panel Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) on Twitter, and he said there would be more to come.
The plans for public hearings came as another top State Department official appeared before House investigators Wednesday, making him the first official to be deposed this week in the impeachment probe after several others declined.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, a career member of the Foreign Service, has held the No. 3 post at the State Department since August 2018. He is likely to be asked about what he knew regarding an effort to undermine former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and efforts by President Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to establish an unofficial diplomatic channel to Ukraine.
The State Department didn’t respond to a request for comment on Mr. Hale’s planned closed-door appearance.
The House also invited Rick Perry, the outgoing energy secretary; Russell Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget; and Ulrich Brechbuhl, State Department counselor, to testify on Wednesday. However, Mr. Vought and a spokeswoman for Mr. Perry have said the two men won’t appear, and people familiar with Mr. Brechbuhl’s plans said he would also skip the deposition. Other officials declined to show up for depositions on Tuesday: Wells Griffith, an energy adviser on the National Security Council, and Michael Duffey, an OMB official.
The House panels have also scheduled testimony on Friday by Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, and Mark Sandy, the OMB associate director for national security programs. The White House said that Mr. Mulvaney won’t appear. Mr. Sandy didn’t respond to an email asking if he would testify.
The impeachment inquiry is centered on the efforts by Messrs. Trump and Giuliani to push Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Democrats say such actions amount to an abuse of presidential power designed to boost Mr. Trump’s re-election prospects.
Mr. Hale’s testimony comes as Democrats are releasing transcripts of testimony from previous witnesses who have described a purported quid pro quo of nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in exchange for the investigations. Mr. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry a hoax.
Democratic lawmakers are also calling witnesses for private depositions and say they won’t hold up their inquiry if officials don’t testify.
“If a bank robbery takes place, and you have eight or 10 witnesses to it, that’s great. It’s better if you have 20 witnesses to it,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D., Md.) a member of the Oversight Committee. “But if you have eight or 10 witnesses who are telling you the same thing, and it’s uncontradicted, that will be enough to ascertain that there was a bank robbery.”
Mr. Hale previously held ambassadorships in Pakistan, Lebanon and Jordan and served as a special envoy for Middle East peace in addition to various posts in the U.S. and abroad. His nomination, at the recommendation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, was viewed as a salve to a community of career diplomats alienated by Mr. Pompeo’s predecessor, Rex Tillerson.
Mr. Hale’s name first arose in the impeachment inquiry last month when a senior State Department official, Philip Reeker, testified about support for Ms. Yovanovitch being stymied after President Trump had her removed in the spring. Mr. Reeker’s deputy, George Kent, expressed concerns about Mr. Giuliani’s role in Ukraine-related affairs to Mr. Reeker and Mr. Hale, according to documents released to Congress by the State Department’s inspector general.
Ms. Yovanovitch’s testimony was released on Monday. She testified that the attacks on her by Mr. Giuliani and his associates undermined the U.S.’s anticorruption efforts in Ukraine and made it difficult for her to do her job.
Separately Wednesday, Tim Morrison, a former top national-security adviser to Mr. Trump, returned to committee rooms where witnesses are able to review their testimony. In his deposition, Mr. Morrison said he had been told of a purported quid pro quo involving military aid to Ukraine, but Mr. Morrison also said that he didn’t think Mr. Trump had done anything illegal on a July 25 phone call in which the president pushed for investigations that could undercut Democrats.
Trump Wanted Attorney General Barr to Publicly Clear Him Over Ukraine Call
Mr. Barr refused the request, which came after the White House released a rough transcript of the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, an official said.
President Trump wanted Attorney General William Barr to publicly declare that he hadn’t broken any laws during a phone call with the Ukrainian leader that is now at the heart of an impeachment inquiry, but Mr. Barr refused the request, an administration official said Wednesday.
Mr. Trump’s request for Mr. Barr to hold a news conference came shortly after the White House released a rough transcript of the July 25 call. In that call, Mr. Trump pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to undertake investigations related to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, as well as the 2016 election. Mr. Trump’s desire for such a public announcement was discussed among White House officials, who relayed it to the Justice Department, the official said.
A whistleblower from the intelligence community said the call showed Mr. Trump had tried to enlist a foreign power to help him in the 2020 presidential election, spurring House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry.
Mr. Trump’s request that his attorney general publicly exonerate him, earlier reported by the Washington Post, represented an extension of a willingness throughout his presidency to pressure the Justice Department to defend and support him.
It also sheds new light on Mr. Barr’s handling of the controversy surrounding the whistleblower complaint. Democrats have criticized him for his perceived closeness to the president and for not stepping aside from matters related to the Ukraine controversy. Mr. Trump repeatedly told Mr. Zelensky he would have the attorney general call to discuss the possible Biden investigation and other issues.
It couldn’t immediately be determined how hard Mr. Trump pressed for a news conference or why Mr. Barr declined to hold one. A department spokeswoman declined to comment.
In tweets Thursday, Mr. Trump disputed the report, calling it fake. The Washington Post “MADE UP the story about me asking Bill Barr to hold a news conference. Never happened, and there were no sources!” Mr. Trump said in a tweet.
After the transcript was released on Sept. 25, the Justice Department said it had evaluated the whistleblower’s complaint to determine whether Mr. Trump had violated campaign finance laws and concluded he didn’t. It declined to open a formal investigation.
Mr. Trump apparently wanted Mr. Barr, who associates said had advocated for the release of the transcript, to make a more public announcement.
It wasn’t the first time Mr. Trump sought to pressure the nation’s top prosecutor to more vigorously defend him. He frequently criticized his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from oversight of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. He also lamented not having an attorney general who would protect him, the way he believed former attorneys general Robert Kennedy and Eric Holder had shielded the presidents who appointed them.
Mr. Trump also wanted former FBI Director James Comey to publicly say that he wasn’t personally under investigation in connection to Russia interference in the 2016 presidential election—an assurance the director had previously given the president privately. Mr. Comey refused, and Mr. Trump ultimately fired him. But Mr. Barr appears to remain in good standing with the president.
Mr. Trump has often praised Mr. Barr, while critics have said he more closely resembles Mr. Trump’s personal attorney than the top U.S. law-enforcement official.
Mr. Barr has denied he is Mr. Trump’s defender and instead has said he is defending the presidency.
Among Mr. Barr’s priorities has been an investigation into the origins of the Russia probe—an administrative review that has evolved into a criminal inquiry. Mr. Trump and his allies have long urged the Justice Department to look at whether Trump associates were unfairly targeted for surveillance. The president has praised and supported Mr. Barr’s efforts, giving him broad authority to declassify information and encouraging foreign leaders to cooperate with the probe.
Mick Mulvaney to Drop Lawsuit, Refuses to Testify in Impeachment Inquiry
Acting White House chief of staff had planned to ask a court whether he must appear
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney reversed course on Tuesday, dropping plans to file a lawsuit asking a federal court to decide whether he is required to testify before Congress as part of a Democratic-led impeachment inquiry.
Instead, Mr. Mulvaney said he would obey a White House instruction to refuse to cooperate with the House of Representatives.
On Monday, lawyers representing Mr. Mulvaney told a court that he would file his own lawsuit after being rebuffed in an effort to join a suit in progress by a different official. On Tuesday morning, Mr. Mulvaney’s lawyers informed a judge that they would no longer be suing.
“Mr. Mulvaney does not intend to pursue litigation regarding the deposition subpoena issued to him by the U.S. House of Representatives. Rather, he will rely on the direction of the President, as supported by an opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, in not appearing for the relevant deposition,” lawyers representing Mr. Mulvaney said in a court filing.
Mr. Mulvaney was subpoenaed by the House last week, but he declined to appear citing a Justice Department opinion that close advisers for the president are immune from being forced to testify before Congress.
Democrats are eager to hear from Mr. Mulvaney because of his proximity to President Trump during the pressure campaign on Ukraine that is at the heart of the impeachment query. Mr. Mulvaney is also acting head of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which over the summer formally put aid to Ukraine on hold just as Mr. Trump and others were trying to get that country to initiate investigations that would benefit the president politically.
In a briefing with reporters last month, Mr. Mulvaney linked Mr. Trump’s holdup of aid to the desire for investigations, before he quickly reversed himself. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied there was any quid pro quo related to the aid, which was released in September amid congressional pressure.
Seeking to resolve the impasse between the Justice Department opinion and a command from Congress to appear to testify, Mr. Mulvaney initially tried to join a lawsuit that was filed by Charles Kupperman, the former deputy national security adviser.
Mr. Kupperman and the House both opposed adding Mr. Mulvaney as a defendant. On Monday night, the judge in the matter, Richard Leon, suggested that Mr. Mulvaney file his own lawsuit—something Mr. Mulvaney’s lawyers initially agreed to do.
At least two lawsuits are winding their way through the courts asking whether presidential advisers like Mr. Mulvaney are immune from being forced to testify in front of Congress. That argument dates back to the Nixon era and has been asserted by presidential administrations of both parties but remains largely untested by the courts.
Only once, in 2008, has a federal judge even grappled with the question. A lower-court judge rejected the immunity argument back then and ordered President George W. Bush’s White House chief of staff and White House counsel to testify in a congressional inquiry. The lawsuit was eventually settled without an appeal—leaving considerable legal ambiguity about the doctrine of complete immunity.
Federal Prosecutors Probe Giuliani’s Links to Ukrainian Energy Projects
Associates told others that Giuliani stood to profit from natural-gas project pitched alongside campaign for investigations of Joe Biden.
Federal prosecutors in New York are investigating whether Rudy Giuliani stood to personally profit from a Ukrainian natural-gas business pushed by two associates who also aided his efforts there to launch investigations that could benefit President Trump, people familiar with the matter said.
Mr. Giuliani’s associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, pitched their new company, and plans for a Poland-to-Ukraine pipeline carrying U.S. natural gas, in meetings with Ukrainian officials and energy executives this year, saying the project had the support of the Trump administration, according to people briefed on the meetings. In many of the same meetings, the two men also pushed for assistance on investigations into Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and alleged interference by Ukraine in the 2016 U.S. election, some of the people said.
In conversations that continued into this summer, Messrs. Parnas and Fruman told Ukrainian officials and others that Mr. Giuliani was a partner in the pipeline venture, which was a project of their company, Global Energy Producers, one of the people said. Another person said the men considered Mr. Giuliani a prospective investor in their company more broadly, but said the pitch was unsophisticated and exaggerated.
In an interview Friday, Mr. Giuliani vehemently denied any involvement in the energy company or the pipeline pitch. “I have no personal interest in any business in Ukraine, including that business,” Mr. Giuliani said, adding that he had no indication if prosecutors were looking into the matter. “If they really want to know if I’m a partner, why don’t they ask me?”
The Ukrainians understood the pipeline to be “part of the essential package” Mr. Giuliani and his associates were pushing, often mentioned immediately after the demand for investigations, said Kenneth F. McCallion, a New York lawyer who represents a number of Ukrainian individuals who learned of the pipeline deal, including former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who left office in 2010.
The Wall Street Journal has previously reported that prosecutors are scrutinizing Mr. Giuliani’s business dealings in Ukraine, including his finances, meetings and work for a city mayor in Ukraine. The inquiry grew out of a campaign-finance investigation into Messrs. Parnas and Fruman, people familiar with the investigation said. The Soviet-bloc born businessmen, both U.S. citizens based in Florida, were arrested last month on charges that they conspired to funnel foreign money to U.S. politicians and made illegal contributions of their own. They have pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors are considering whether Mr. Giuliani may have violated lobbying laws in connection with his Ukraine work, people familiar with the investigation said. It couldn’t be determined what criminal charges, if any, prosecutors would weigh in connection with Mr. Giuliani’s alleged interest in Global Energy Producers.
“I don’t know what they said to other people about me,” Mr. Giuliani said Friday, referring to Messrs. Parnas and Fruman. “I do know the following: I am not a part of the ownership, or any other involvement with GEP. I never agreed to be part of it. I’m not even sure I was ever asked to be part of it.” He said that if Messrs. Parnas and Fruman had asked for his legal opinion, he would have told them to avoid involvement in any “ownership situation” in Ukraine while working alongside him there, because it would look “stupid.”
Mr. Giuliani, the president’s lawyer, previously has denied wrongdoing and said he was acting in Ukraine on behalf of Mr. Trump. Mr. Giuliani has also said he provided Messrs. Parnas and Fruman “civil advice on business.” Friday he said he had also referred Global Energy Producers to another lawyer in connection with campaign-finance issues.
Mr. Giuliani has said his efforts in Ukraine were coordinated with the State Department.
Mr. Giuliani’s work for Mr. Trump and the pressure campaign in Ukraine are central to an impeachment inquiry that began its public phase on Wednesday in the House of Representatives.
In the first public testimony in the impeachment proceedings this week, U.S. officials said Mr. Giuliani opened an irregular channel of diplomacy in Ukraine, pressing for investigations that could help Mr. Trump politically. At the same time, the Trump administration withheld military aid to Ukraine temporarily, in what Democrats say was an inappropriate quid pro quo.
Mr. Trump has called the impeachment inquiry a hoax and said his dealings with the Ukrainian government were proper.
Messrs. Fruman and Parnas have been closely involved with Mr. Giuliani’s Ukraine-related work in the past year, including introducing Mr. Giuliani to Ukrainians and lobbying former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to open investigations that Democrats say would benefit President Trump.
In meetings with officials and businessmen in Ukraine, Messrs. Parnas and Fruman typically presented a number of interconnected demands, according to people familiar with the conversations. They pressed for Ukraine’s leaders to announce investigations into Mr. Biden and into unfounded theories that Ukraine had played a role in interfering in the 2016 elections.
Mr. Giuliani and others close to Mr. Trump have called for investigations into Mr. Biden and his son, Hunter Biden, related to the younger Biden’s time on the board of Burisma Group, a Ukrainian gas company. Mr. Biden has denied wrongdoing, and Ukraine’s former top prosecutor has said there was no evidence of a crime.
They also talked up their company, Global Energy Producers, and a plan to ship U.S. natural gas to Ukraine. The project had many practical impediments—including geography and cost—but had the potential to be extremely lucrative, people familiar with the pitch said. It would need the support of Ukrainian officials and a partnership with Naftogaz, the state-owned energy company.
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman presented themselves, and the pipeline deal, as having the backing of Mr. Giuliani and the Trump administration, according to people familiar with the conversations. They also told Ukrainian officials and others that the project had the backing of Dmytro Firtash, a Ukrainian tycoon who made his fortune brokering natural-gas sales from Russia and Central Asia to Ukraine.
The Trump administration has long promoted U.S. liquefied natural gas, dubbed “freedom gas,” as a way for Europe to reduce its reliance on Russia for energy.
Mr. Firtash, who is in Vienna fighting extradition to the U.S. to face bribery and related charges, has aligned himself in recent years with people close to Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Firtash has denied the allegations.
A spokesman for Mr. Firtash’s legal team said in a statement: “Mr. Firtash met Mr. Parnas for the first time in June 2019. Mr. Firtash had no business relationship with Mr. Parnas or Mr. Fruman.” The law firm representing Mr. Firtash, diGenova & Toensing, hired Mr. Parnas this summer to serve as an interpreter, the firm has said.
One potential snag for the proposed pipeline was Naftogaz, the dominant player in Ukrainian energy and a focal point of U.S. foreign policy in the region. One person familiar with the Naftogaz board said the company dismissed Global Energy Producers’ proposed pipeline as impractical.
Messrs. Fruman and Parnas devised a plan to facilitate the pipeline plan by replacing Naftogaz’s chief executive, the Journal and others have previously reported. As part of that plan, in March, they approached a senior Naftogaz executive with a proposal to install him as the head of the company, a former business partner of the executive told the Journal.
Efforts by Trump administration officials and associates to install new management at Naftogaz, in hopes of steering contracts to companies controlled by Trump allies, have also been described by the Associated Press.
Roger Stone Found Guilty of Lying to Congress, Witness Tampering
Trial focused on role of GOP operative as conduit between the Trump 2016 campaign and the organization WikiLeaks.
Roger Stone, a flamboyant Republican operative and longtime adviser to President Trump, was found guilty Friday of lying to Congress and witness tampering, making him the latest member of the president’s circle to be convicted on federal charges.
Mr. Stone was found guilty of all seven counts against him, including five involving making false statements to Congress. Federal prosecutors made the case that Mr. Stone lied to Congress about his efforts to make contact with the organization WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign. The jury of nine women and three men began deliberating Thursday morning at a Washington D.C. courthouse after a one-week trial.
The witness tampering charge carries a stiff penalty, with Mr. Stone facing as much as 20 years in prison, although first-time offenders often get far less than the maximum penalty. The other charges carry a maximum of five years.
WikiLeaks published several troves of Democratic Party emails stolen by Russian hackers as part of a Kremlin campaign to boost Mr. Trump at the expense of Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded.
““Roger Stone had no intention of being truthful with the committee…he is just making stuff up,” prosecutor Jonathan Kravis had told jurors, saying Mr. Stone did so to help Mr. Trump.
Mr. Stone is the sixth associate of Mr. Trump to be convicted on charges stemming from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian activity in the 2016 election.
Mr. Mueller’s report didn’t establish that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia. The Stone trial was one of the final loose ends from the Mueller investigation, which wrapped up in March.
Mr. Stone’s defense attorneys portrayed him as a serial exaggerator who was merely pretending to have inside knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to inflate his standing in Mr. Trump’s inner circle. They offered no witnesses in Mr. Stone’s defense. They rested their case after playing a roughly hourlong clip of Mr. Stone’s testimony in front of Congress.
“There was no purpose for Mr. Stone to have to lie about anything to protect the campaign, when the campaign was doing nothing wrong,” Bruce Rogow told jurors in summing up the case. He also noted that Mr. Stone spoke to Congress after Mr. Trump was elected, so couldn’t have hurt Mr. Trump’s campaign.
Mr. Stone has been a Republican operative for decades, beginning in 1972 when he served as a junior staffer on President Nixon’s reelection campaign. He went on to work for Ronald Reagan in his presidential bid. When in New York organizing for the campaign in 1979, he was introduced to Mr. Trump by attorney Roy Cohn.
Mr. Stone registered as a lobbyist on behalf of the Trump Organization in the late 1990s and early 2000s, according to public records. Around that time, he began counseling Mr. Trump on his political ambitions, and the two became friends.
Although Mr. Stone was sidelined from mainstream Republican politics following salacious revelations about his personal life in the mid-1990s, he continued to advise Mr. Trump for years, including helping to lead Mr. Trump’s aborted 2000 presidential campaign on the Reform Party ticket. He served on the Trump 2016 campaign when it started but severed ties in the summer of 2015.
Despite leaving his official role on the campaign, the two men remained in contact leading up to the 2016 election, according to testimony and phone logs introduced in court.
Witnesses testified that Mr. Stone relayed information about WikiLeaks’ plans directly to Mr. Trump and officials at the top of his campaign. Former campaign chairman Steve Bannon told jurors that the campaign considered Mr. Stone to be its “access point” to WikiLeaks, and former deputy campaign manager Rick Gates testified that Mr. Stone spoke about forthcoming WikiLeaks releases as early as April of 2016.
Mr. Stone has denied speaking to Mr. Trump about WikiLeaks, and Mr. Trump told the special counsel’s office he didn’t recall discussing WikiLeaks with Mr. Stone, according to written responses he provided to Mr. Mueller’s office last year.
While prosecutors argued Mr. Stone lied to the House Intelligence Committee and effectively obstructed their investigation by withholding the name of another witness—conservative activist Jerome Corsi—the trial didn’t resolve questions about whether Messrs. Stone and Corsi and Trump had inside information about WikiLeaks’ plans.
In July of 2016, Mr. Stone and Mr. Corsi exchanged emails as they scrambled to learn more about the material the organization planned to release.
“Get to Assange,” Mr. Stone wrote to Mr. Corsi on July 25, in a reference to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Days later, Mr. Corsi responded that WikiLeaks planned “2 more dumps,” including one in October. “Time to let more than Podesta be exposed as in bed w enemy,” Mr. Corsi wrote, referring to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.
Soon thereafter, Mr. Stone began boasting privately and publicly about his contact with Mr. Assange. Then, on Aug. 21, Mr. Stone tweeted: “Trust me, it will soon the Podesta’s time in the barrel” (sic). Weeks later, WikiLeaks began releasing emails stolen from Mr. Podesta, roiling the presidential race.
Mr. Corsi said he merely “figured out” that WikiLeaks had Mr. Podesta’s emails by using publicly available information, and both Mr. Corsi and Mr. Stone have denied being in touch with Mr. Assange directly or indirectly. Mr. Stone has also maintained that his tweet was related to the lobbying activities of Mr. Podesta and his brother Tony.
Mr. Assange has denied being in communication with Mr. Stone.
Mr. Corsi publicly rejected a plea deal from Mueller’s team last year. He said that while he was “constantly amending testimony,” he never intentionally lied to prosecutors. He also acknowledged deleting emails in which he and Mr. Stone discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks, though he denied wrongdoing and was never prosecuted.
To shield Mr. Corsi from scrutiny in the congressional probe, Mr. Stone falsely told lawmakers that he only had one “backchannel” to WikiLeaks, naming radio personality Randy Credico, prosecutors said. They argued that Mr. Stone corruptly persuaded Mr. Credico to lie to the House committee and even avoid testifying.
The other Trump associates who have been convicted in connection with the Mueller investigation are: Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, convicted by a jury of financial crimes; Mr. Gates, former deputy chairman of the campaign, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy and false statements; former national security adviser Mike Flynn, who pleaded guilty to false statements; former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to false statements, tax charges and campaign finance allegations; and George Papadopoulos, a low-level campaign aide who pleaded guilty to lying.
Four Witnesses Testify Tuesday in Impeachment Hearings — Live Analysis
Kurt Volker and Tim Morrison are testifying this afternoon in the House impeachment probe. Earlier, Pence adviser Jennifer Williams and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman testified.
- Nunes Presses Vindman On Intelligence Contact
- Witnesses Recall Concerns Over Trump-Zelensky Call
- Unlike Vindman, Williams Declines To Describe Trump’s Push For Investigations As A ‘Demand’
Chaiman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) has opened the afternoon hearing, which will feature testimony from former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and former White House National Security Council official Tim Morrison.
For this fan, impeachment is like a box of chocolates.
California retiree Anne Coffelt woke up before dawn to get in line for the first impeachment hearing last week, eager to be an “eyewitness to history,” as she put it.
On Tuesday, she was back for another round, along with a few friends she’d met in line.
“Wow, what a show, what a great, what a great thing,” enthused Ms. Coffelt, 68 years old, during a break between hearings.
She thought the hearing she attended last week—featuring testimony from Ambassador Bill Taylor and top State Department official George Kent—had “more drama,” but she still found Tuesday’s testimony from Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams, an aide to Vice President Mike Pence, riveting.
“This is a kind of a preview of more things to come up this week,” Ms. Coffelt said. “You know, we’ve got (Ambassador Kurt) Volker this afternoon and everybody’s looking for, you know, (Ambassador Gordon) Sondland tomorrow. And then Fiona Hill. It’s, it’s like a See’s box of chocolates, you just keep taking these different things out.”
A self-described politics “junkie,” Ms. Coffelt has spent the week between hearings at a youth hostel in Washington. Among her tourist outings was a visit to the Department of Labor to see an exhibit on Frances Perkins, who served as Labor Secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
She also tried to sit in on the Roger Stone trial, but was 10 minutes late, so she didn’t get in. “I walked instead of taking an Uber,” she said, still bummed. She said she’ll be back in the audience for this afternoon’s hearing.
We’re getting ready to hear from a second panel of witnesses—former National Security Council official Tim Morrison and former special envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker. Both are witnesses whose testimony Republicans had felt would bolster their case, making this second panel a test of the GOP strategy.
We know that Mr. Morrison, formerly the senior director for European Affairs, said in a closed-door deposition that he didn’t think anything illegal had been discussed in the July 25 call but was concerned that a transcript of the call would leak, and about how that would play out in a polarized environment. Mr. Morrison also testified that he had concerns about Col. Vindman’s judgment.
Mr. Volker had earlier said that he wasn’t aware of any explicit quid pro quo , and when a fellow ambassador, William Taylor, raised concerns that there was a link between the nearly $400 million in withheld aid and Ukraine’s commit to investigate the Bidens and the 2016 elections, “I discussed with him that there is no linkage here. I view this as an internal thing, and we are going to get it fixed.”
Mr. Volker’s testimony may have a somewhat different emphasis today, now that he has a chance to read transcripts of other witnesses depositions.
Republicans Challenged Vindman’s Judgment
In the recently-concluded hearing, several Republicans sought to raise questions about Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s loyalties and judgment.
Steve Castor, the GOP counsel, spent several minutes focusing on a job offer Col. Vindman received from the former Ukrainian national security adviser to serve as defense minister to Ukraine. Col. Vindman said he dismissed it and notified his supervisors.
Mr. Castor asked if the job offer “might create at least the perception of a conflict.” Col. Vindman responded: “I’m not sure if he meant it as a joke or not, but it’s much more important what my civilian White House National Security Council chain of command thinks more so than anybody else.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio) asked Col. Vindman about testimony from his former boss, National Security Council official Tim Morrison, who said in a deposition that he had concerns about Col. Vindman’s judgment, and that when he took over from Fiona Hill, she too had “raised concerns about Alex’s judgment.”
“So, your boss had concerns about your judgment,” Mr. Jordan said. “Your colleagues had concerns about your judgment and your colleagues felt that there were times when you leaked information. Any idea why they have those impressions?”
Col. Vindman replied by reading from a mid-July evaluation provided by Ms. Hill before she left the NSC. “Alex is a top one percent military officer and the best Army officer I ever worked with in my 15 years of government service,” Col. Vindman read. “He is brilliant, unflappable, and exercises excellent judgment.”
White House Dismisses Hearings as ‘Nothing New’
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham dismisses today’s hearing in a statement:
“We have learned nothing new in today’s illegitimate ‘impeachment’ proceedings. However, buried among the witnesses’ personal opinions and conjecture about a call the White House long ago released to the public, both witnesses testified the July 25 transcript was ‘accurate’ and nothing President Trump has done or said amounts to ‘bribery’ or any other crime. Today’s hearing only further exposes that Chairman Schiff and the Democrats are simply blinded by their hatred for Donald Trump and rabid desire to overturn the outcome of a free and fair election.”
‘This Is America’: Vindman Draws Applause in Describing His Sense of Duty
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D., N.Y.) opened his questioning of Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman by remarking, “This may be your first congressional hearing like this.”
“Hopefully the last,” quipped Col. Vindman.
After criticizing Republicans for their treatment of Col. Vindman, Mr. Maloney asked him how he felt when he listened to the July 25 call.
“There was probably an element of shock. … my worst fears of how our Ukrainian policy could play out, was playing out,” he said.
So you reported it, Mr. Maloney said.
“I did,” Col. Vindman said. “Because that was my duty.”
Mr. Maloney asked Col. Vindman to reread the part of his opening statement where he told his father not to worry about him. The congressman asked Col. Vindman why his father might be worried.
“He’s deeply worried about it because in his context in the Soviet Union it was the ultimate risk,” Col. Vindman said.
Mr. Maloney asked Col. Vindman why he told his father not to worry, that he would be fine by telling the truth.
“Congressman, because this is America,” Col. Vindman said. “This is the country I’ve served and defended. That all my brothers have served. And here, right matters.” Spontaneous applause broke out in the hearing room.
The attacks on Col. Vindman personally stung Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D., Ill.), himself an immigrant, who choked up during his questioning time.
“I came to this country when I was three months old,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said. “Your family fled the Soviet Union and moved to America when you were just 3 1/2 years old,” he went on, reciting the Vindman family story, and how Mr. Vindman’s father worked multiple jobs to provide for his family while also learning English, eventually becoming an engineer.
“Your father achieved the American dream, and so did you and your family,” Mr. Krishnamoorthi said. “From one immigrant American to another immigrant American, I want to say to you that you and your family represent the very best of America. I assume that you are as proud to be an American as I am.”
During a Break, Republicans Call Hearing a Snooze Fest
During a short break, Freedom Caucus members Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.) and Rep. Andy Biggs (R., Ariz.) spoke to reporters in the hearing room. Both said they felt the hearing was mostly a snooze fest.
“The only the only lively part was really trying to ask questions about who he expressed or spoke to, and Mr. Schiff prevented that,” Mr. Biggs said, referring to questioning of Col. Vindman.
“I’m yawning,” Mr. Meadows said.
Mr. Meadows said he found it “surprising” the Col. Vindman had been asked by a Ukrainian official if he’d be willing to serve as defense minister.
“I find that interesting, and at worse problematic,” Mr. Meadows said. “I can’t imagine that anyone would make an offer to be a defense minister for a foreign country to somebody on NSC staff.”
When a reporter pointed out that Col. Vindman testified that he’d declined the offer, Mr. Meadows agreed that that was true. “So I’m glad he did, but I just, I just find it interesting that a foreign government would offer somebody on our national security team a job,” he said.
Mr. Meadows stopped short of alleging that Col. Vindman’s loyalties were in question, as some Republican pundits have suggested on television. “I think you’re trying to extrapolate too far out if you’re attaching motives to it,” he said. “I’m not.”
Williams Declines to Describe Trump’s Push for Investigations as a ‘Demand’
While Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman has characterized President Trump’s July 25 calls for investigations as a demand, Jennifer Williams shied away from saying as much.
“It didn’t sound like from your testimony that you heard what took place on that call as a demand for investigations,” said Rep. John Racliffe (R., Texas).
“I don’t believe I’m in a position to characterize it further than the president did in terms of asking for a favor,” Ms. Williams replied.
“You didn’t hear a demand?” pressed Mr. Ratcliffe.
“Again I would just refer back to the transcript itself,” she said.
Mr. Ratcliffe uses the exchange to press a point.
“An impeachment inquiry is supposed to be clear. It’s supposed to be obvious. It’s supposed to be overwhelming and compelling,” Mr. Ratcliffe said. “If two people on the call disagree honestly about whether or not there was a demand, whether or not anything should be reported on a call, that is not a clear and compelling basis to undo 63 million votes and remove a president from office.”
Republicans Press Vindman on His Comments and Actions
Now Republicans are turning up the heat. Rep. Mike Turner (R., Ohio) elicits from Col. Vindman that he has never met Mr. Trump. “You do know that this impeachment inquiry is about the president of the United States?” he asks.
And Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R., Ohio)—who served in Iraq—suggests that Col. Vindman has circumvented the chain of command by bringing his concerns about Mr. Trump’s phone call to a White House lawyer without notifying his immediate superior, Tim Morrison.
“Mr. Morrison’s your senior,” Mr. Wenstrup said. “He didn’t know about it.”
Rep. Jackie Speier (D., Calif.) and other Democrats have pointed out that reporting concerns to the NSC’s lawyer, John Eisenberg, as Col. Vindman did, was within the chain of command.
Mr. Wenstrup also picks up on comments from Mr. Vindman in his deposition, when he was pressed on why he raised concerns with a White House lawyer when others hadn’t.
“I’m the director for Ukraine. I’m responsible for Ukraine. I’m the most knowledgeable,” Mr. Vindman had testified.
“Are you the only one of the entire universe of our government or otherwise that can advise the president on Ukraine?” Mr. Wenstrup asks.
Mr. Wenstrup proceeded to ask if someone like Ms. Williams could also provide advice to the president on Ukraine, prompting Mr. Vindman to say that would be the national security adviser—at the time, John Bolton. “So other people can advise on Ukraine besides you,” said Mr. Wenstrup. Mr. Vindman didn’t answer, and the questioning moved on.
Trump, in Brief Comments, Says Republicans in Impeachment Probe Are ‘Absolutely Killing It’
Since he’s been in office, President Trump repeatedly has invited the media into cabinet meetings for stretches of 90 minutes or more, filling notebooks with quotes on a range of topics and draining reporters cell phones in the process. Given the opportunity to steal the spotlight on Tuesday from Day Three of public impeachment hearings, he demurred.
Mr. Trump shooed reporters out of the Roosevelt Room after just a few minutes, taking just two questions while aiming to deliver amessage that he’s focused on trade.
But the president didn’t completely ignore the proceedings in Capitol. He intertwined the hearings and with his own remarks about trade, claiming—without offering proof—that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was pressuring members of her own party to support impeachment in exchange for a vote on his rewrite of the North American Free Trade Agreement, now known as USMCA. “Who knows if this is so, but I think it’s so — I’ve got pretty good authority on it,” Mr. Trump said.
Mr. Trump also acknowledged watching some of the impeachment hearings this morning, noting the moment Lt. Col. Vindman asked Rep. Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican member of the Intelligence Committee, to address him with his military title. “I understand he wears his uniform now when he goes in,” Mr. Trump said, adding that he liked the bow tie George Kent, a State Department official, wore for the hearing last week.
“I don’t know Vindman, I never heard of him — I don’t know any of these people, other than I have seen one or two a couple of times,” Mr. Trump said.
The president referred to the impeachment as Mrs. Pelosi’s “pipe dream,” called the Intelligence Committee a “kangaroo court,” and praised his fellow Republicans on the committee for “absolutely killing it.”
“What’s going on is a disgrace, and it’s an embarrassment to our nation,” Mr. Trump said.
Two Budget Staffers Resigned After Voicing Concerns About Halted Ukraine Aid, Official Says
Two staffers for the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) resigned after expressing frustrations about a hold on military assistance to Ukraine that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry, a witness has testified.
Mark Sandy, an OMB staffer, testified this month that the two staffers, one of whom was in the legal division, had resigned partially due to frustrations with the unexplained aid freeze, according to a transcript of his testimony released Tuesday.
Sandy recalled that one individual who resigned had “expressed some frustrations about not understanding the reason for the hold,” according to the transcript, but he noted that he was “reluctant to speak to someone else’s motivations.”
He was also asked whether the OMB legal division employee said they were leaving “at least in part because of their concerns on frustrations about the hold on Ukraine security assistance.”
“Yes, in terms of that process, in part,” Sandy responded.
The officials were not named in the transcript.
A senior administration official categorized the assertion that the two officials resigned in part over the aid freeze as false in an email to The Hill.
Sandy also testified that he believed President Trump had directed the hold on Ukraine aid.
His testimony was part of the House’s impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, including the freeze on security assistance.
The transcript of Sandy’s closed-door interview was one of the latest released by House Democrats. They also released testimony from a closed-door session with Philip Reeker, the acting assistant secretary of State in charge of European and Eurasian Affairs.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Tuesday that the Reeker and Sandy interviews bolster their case against Trump.
“The testimonies from Ambassador Reeker and Mr. Sandy continue to paint a portrait of hand-picked political appointees corrupting the official levers of U.S. government power, including by withholding taxpayer funded military assistance to Ukraine, to further the President’s own personal political agenda,” they said.
Hours after Democrats released the transcripts, Trump appeared at a campaign rally in Florida, where he blasted the ongoing impeachment inquiry, with supporters breaking into a chant of “bullshit” when he insisted that the inquiry was falling flat with voters.
The transcripts’ release comes as Schiff’s panel works to put together a report for the Judiciary Committee that will be used to determine whether to draft articles of impeachment against Trump.
The House launched the inquiry after revelations that Trump had asked Ukraine’s president to look into former Vice President Joe Biden, a top political rival and leading candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Inspector General Finds FBI ‘Failures’ but Says Russia Probe Was Justified
Inspector general finds FBI was justified in probing whether Trump campaign coordinated with Russia.
A report by the Justice Department inspector general found “serious performance failures” by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in obtaining surveillance warrants against a one-time Trump aide, but said the agency was justified in launching its probe into whether there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In a report of more than 400 pages, the Justice Department’s inspector general said it didn’t find any direct evidence that political bias influenced decisions made in the inquiry. But the report also found significant instances of missteps.
“That so many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI, and that FBI officials expected would eventually be subjected to close scrutiny, raised significant questions regarding the FBI chain of command’s management and supervision of the FISA process,” the report said, referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
The report also concluded that the FBI was justified in using information from a former British spy named Christopher Steele, but that the bureau should have more aggressively reassessed his reliability after it obtained information contradicting some of his claims.
The report is likely to fuel debate about the propriety of the FBI’s investigation into Trump campaign associates, and it isn’t the final word on the issue. Attorney General William Barr, who has long been openly skeptical of aspects of the Russia investigation, said the watchdog’s report “now makes clear that the FBI launched an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.”
“Nevertheless the investigation and surveillance was pushed forward for the duration of the campaign and deep into President Trump’s administration,” Mr. Barr said.
President Trump, in comments to reporters at the White House, said he had been briefed on the report, calling it a disgrace and an “embarrassment to our country.”
John Durham, a federal prosecutor tapped by Mr. Barr to separately scrutinize the origins of the Russia investigation, also said Monday he disagreed with Mr. Horowitz’s key conclusion that there was a legal basis for opening the probe. He declined to elaborate.
“Our investigation has included developing information from other persons and entities, both in the U.S. and outside of the U.S.,” Mr. Durham said. “Based on the evidence collected to date, and while our investigation is ongoing, last month we advised the Inspector General that we do not agree with some of the report’s conclusions as to predication and how the FBI case was opened.”
The watchdog, Michael Horowitz, detailed a lengthy list of errors made by FBI agents involved in the applications to monitor the adviser, Carter Page, including in its reliance on information provided by Mr. Steele, whose research was funded by Democrats. As the investigation continued, the report said, the FBI obtained information that undercut the initial allegations it received about Mr. Page, but it didn’t relay that information to Justice Department attorneys who vetted the application or to the court that ultimately approved it.
Those omissions include: that Mr. Page had been approved for contact with certain Russian intelligence officers between 2008 and 2013 by another U.S. agency; that a source Mr. Steele had relied on in providing information to the FBI didn’t support some of Mr. Steele’s allegations to the FBI; that Mr. Steele’s information had been used only minimally in prior criminal cases; and that Mr. Page had provided information to a human source that was inconsistent with the allegations.
The report says the FBI never received information to support the initial allegations against Mr. Page, including that he had met with a senior associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin in July 2016, or that he was serving as an intermediary between Russia and the Trump campaign in connection with Russia’s theft of Democrats’ emails.
“In our view, this was a failure of not only the operational team, but also of the managers and supervisors, including senior officials, in the chain of command,” Mr. Horowitz wrote, adding he was undertaking another review of the FBI’s use of the same surveillance methods against other Americans.
The FBI team used confidential sources in its investigation, the report says, recording multiple conversations with Trump campaign aides including a “high-level Trump campaign official” who wasn’t under investigation.
House Democrats Announce Two Articles of Impeachment Against Trump
First article addresses abuse of power, second relates to obstruction of Congress.
The House Judiciary Committee will pursue two articles of impeachment against President Trump, focused on his effort to push Ukraine to announce investigations that Democrats say would benefit him in the 2020 elections and his decision to block participation in the subsequent congressional probe.
“We must be clear: no one, not even the president, is above the law,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y) said Tuesday.
The first article of impeachment accuses Mr. Trump of soliciting foreign election interference by pressing Ukraine to undertake politically helpful investigations and conditioning U.S. aid to Kyiv and a White House meeting on those probes. Democrats also allege Mr. Trump obstructed Congress by preventing at least nine officials from testifying and by blocking records from across the federal government from being shared with Congress.
The president has dismissed the impeachment effort as a hoax, and Republicans have defended Mr. Trump’s conduct and said Democrats of relying on secondhand information to pursue their case.
“There’s nothing that has actually come close to an impeachable offense,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R., Ga.), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “Abuse of power is so amorphous,” he said, adding that “they’ve been telling the American people he’s committed a crime for three months and this is what we get?”
Only two presidents have been impeached; no president has ever been convicted in the Senate. Democrats say they must act now, before next year’s elections, because they say the president is liable to continue to solicit more foreign help for that election, pointing to his 2016 call for Russia to unearth negative information on rival Hillary Clinton.
The House Judiciary Committee—made up of 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans—aims to begin holding votes on the two impeachment articles this week, with the aim of starting that process no later than Thursday, one Democrat said. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said he expects the House to consider impeachment on the floor next week.
If the House votes for impeachment articles, as expected, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) would then send the articles to the Senate, which is expected to hold a trial early next year. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) told reporters at his weekly news conference on Tuesday that “it’s not possible” to turn to a Senate trial before Congress breaks for the holidays.
Senators of both parties say it is very unlikely that the trial results in a conviction, or the president’s removal from office. Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate, and conviction requires a two-thirds majority vote.
On Monday, the Republicans’ top counsel on the House Intelligence Committee said Democrats were making too much of a transcript of Mr. Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, which he said was ambiguous. In the call, Mr. Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymyr Zelensky, to “do us a favor” and also to “look into” Joe Biden, a potential Trump opponent next year, and a theory that Ukraine and not Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. He also said he would direct his personal lawyer and Attorney General William Barr to contact Mr. Zelensky to help him in a possible investigation.
Mr. Biden’s son sat on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma Group while his father was overseeing U.S. policy toward Ukraine, an arrangement that Mr. Trump has said was corrupt. The Bidens deny any wrongdoing.
Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney declined to weigh in on allegations. The investigation is “a political process, not a legal process,” he said at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council meeting Tuesday in Washington.
In focusing on only two articles of impeachment, Democrats opted for a narrow approach, hoping to keep their caucus from splitting and to present a case that would be easy for the public to understand. That meant deciding against an obstruction-of-justice charge related to the probe conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian election interference, a possible charge that they debated for weeks.
Many Democrats had lobbied for an obstruction-of-justice charge, saying that Congress needed to address Mr. Mueller’s report, which detailed at least five instances of possible presidential obstruction. Mr. Mueller declined to exonerate the president. Mr. Barr and then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded that Mr. Trump’s actions didn’t constitute a crime.
“We wanted to develop articles of impeachment that enjoy the broad support of the caucus and that focused on the most serious conduct,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D., R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member. “Abuse of power is the highest of high crimes and misdemeanors, and so that incorporates a lot of conduct.”
The White House would like a trial to begin right away, a person familiar with White House thinking said, and Mr. Trump is “interested in this resolving as quickly as possible,” the person said.
Before the articles were introduced, Democratic lawmakers from districts Mr. Trump won in 2016 briefly talked about trying to get some Republicans together who would vote on censuring rather than impeaching the president, but they didn’t move forward, said a lawmaker familiar with the plans.
Giuliani Associate Got $1 Million Loan From Lawyer for Ukrainian Tycoon
Payment by Dmytro Firtash’s lawyer to Lev Parnas suggests closer relationship than previously known.
Lev Parnas, a business associate of Rudy Giuliani, received a $1 million loan from an attorney for Ukrainian tycoon Dmytro Firtash in September, a federal prosecutor told a federal judge Tuesday, a previously undisclosed arrangement that suggests a closer relationship between the oligarch and Mr. Parnas than previously known.
The loan was sent the month before Mr. Parnas and an associate, Igor Fruman, were arrested on Oct. 10 at Dulles International Airport on their way to Vienna, where Mr. Firtash lives.
Mr. Firtash, a well-connected billionaire who made his fortune brokering natural-gas sales from Russia and Central Asia to Ukraine, is fighting extradition to the U.S. on bribery and related charges.
Questions about the loan to Mr. Parnas arose last week, when prosecutors asked a judge to revoke his bail and order him detained, saying he lied to authorities about his assets and income—including a $1 million transfer from a Russian bank account to an account in his wife’s name. Mr. Parnas’s lawyer said it wasn’t disclosed because it was a loan to his client’s spouse.
After his arrest, Mr. Parnas pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from alleged efforts to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections and to influence U.S. politics on behalf of at least one Ukrainian politician.
U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken ruled Tuesday to keep the terms of Mr. Parnas’s release unchanged, saying it wasn’t clear that the inconsistencies in Mr. Parnas’s statements to authorities were intentional.
Mr. Parnas’s efforts to aid Mr. Giuliani in his push for investigations in Ukraine are a focus of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s interactions with Kyiv, but they have also figured in the Manhattan federal investigation.
In court on Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski described Mr. Firtash as Mr. Parnas’s “foreign benefactor.”
The September loan came from Ralph Oswald Isenegger, a Dubai-based attorney for Mr. Firtash, Mr. Parnas’ lawyer told the judge Tuesday. Mr. Isenegger didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph Bondy, told the judge the majority of the loan had been spent, including $200,000 that went to an escrow account to buy a home in Florida, a deal involving Mr. Parnas’s wife, Svetlana Parnas.
Of Mr. Parnas’s ties to Mr. Firtash, he said, “I believe he has burned that bridge.”
Mr. Bondy disputed prosecutors’ assertion that Mr. Parnas had mischaracterized his assets, saying “there was no attempt to minimize his assets at all.”
Mr. Bondy didn’t say why Mr. Firtash’s lawyer provided the loan. But the disclosure is likely to intensify scrutiny on Mr. Firtash’s relationship with Mr. Parnas, whom the oligarch also paid $200,000 over four months earlier this year to serve as an interpreter for two of his lawyers, according to a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Parnas frequently bragged to associates that he was the highest-paid interpreter in the world, a detail prosecutors referenced in court Tuesday.
Mr. Firtash was detained in Vienna in 2014 on charges filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago that he conspired to bribe Indian officials to enable his company to secure titanium-mining rights there. He has denied the charges.
Mr. Parnas met Mr. Firtash in June, when he and Mr. Fruman offered to help Mr. Firtash with his problems with the U.S. Justice Department if the oligarch hired two lawyers close to Mr. Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Those two lawyers, Victoria Toensing and Joseph diGenova, were already aiding Mr. Giuliani in his push for investigations in Ukraine. Mr. Firtash subsequently hired them—paying them $1 million for their work, according to a person familiar with the matter—and they hired Mr. Parnas to serve as an interpreter.
Ms. Toensing and Mr. diGenova weren’t aware of the loan to Mr. Parnas, according to their spokesman, Mark Corallo.
U.S. Envoy to Ukraine Was Asked to Step Aside Ahead of Pompeo Visit
Timing counters earlier suggestions that Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor’s precise departure date was predetermined.
Acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor was instructed by a top aide to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to hand over responsibilities for his post just days before Mr. Pompeo plans to visit the Ukrainian capital, according to a person familiar with the situation.
That timing countered earlier suggestions that Mr. Taylor’s precise departure date was predetermined, and will allow Mr. Pompeo to avoid meeting or being photographed with an ambassador who has drawn President Trump’s ire for his testimony in the congressional impeachment inquiry, according to this person and to Ukrainian officials.
U.S. House lawmakers voted on Wednesday to impeach Mr. Trump for a series of events that involved removing the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, so that administration representatives could press the country’s newly elected president to announce investigations of potential political benefit to the president. Mr. Trump has argued he did nothing wrong.
Mr. Taylor testified in October in a congressional deposition and in November in an open hearing as part of the impeachment inquiry that he and other officials were aware of efforts by key Trump officials to press the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Democrat Joe Biden and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Mr. Biden has defended his work in Ukraine, and U.S. intelligence assessments have concluded Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
Mr. Taylor was named as the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine after Ms. Yovanovitch was recalled from her post in Ukraine in May. Under the terms of the federal Vacancies Act, he could have retained his position in Kyiv until Jan. 8, and can serve longer in other capacities under his contract with the State Department.
But Ulrich Brechbuhl, a key aide to Mr. Pompeo who serves as State Department counselor, informed Mr. Taylor on Dec. 11 that Mr. Pompeo had instructed him to hand over his responsibilities in Kyiv on Jan. 1, according to the person familiar with the situation.
Mr. Taylor is planning to leave the country on Jan. 2, and had understood that Mr. Pompeo wanted to avoid being photographed with him while visiting Ukraine, the person familiar with the situation said.
Mr. Pompeo’s visit is scheduled to take place Jan. 3 to Jan. 4 in Kyiv, according to Ukrainian officials. The secretary is expected to meet with the Ukrainian president, one of the Ukrainian officials added, noting that the meeting was strongly supported by White House. State Department officials wouldn’t confirm Mr. Pompeo’s travel plans.
One Ukrainian official said that plans indicated that “Taylor should leave Kyiv before Pompeo comes.”
A State Department spokeswoman and Mr. Brechbuhl didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Pompeo’s visit comes at a sensitive moment for the secretary of state, who has close ties with Mr. Trump and is widely perceived to be preparing for a possible run for a U.S. Senate seat in Kansas.
Last week, Mr. Pompeo began to post tweets on a new Twitter account—@mikepompeo—featuring Kansas-related themes. A tweet earlier this week celebrated American farmers, including those from Kansas.
Mr. Taylor, a West Point graduate who previously served as ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009, had been retired from the State Department when he was asked earlier this year to replace Ms. Yovanovitch.
Mr. Pompeo told him when he took the post that the U.S. would strongly support Ukraine as well as Mr. Taylor’s efforts to advance the U.S. policy, Mr. Taylor told Congress.
But Mr. Taylor told Congress that he became concerned after concluding that Mr. Trump had made nearly $400 million in security assistance contingent on a commitment by Mr. Zelensky to investigate Mr. Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate, and the allegations that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.
Mr. Trump has described Mr. Taylor as a “never Trumper,” although he worked for Republican as well as Democratic administrations. Mr. Taylor has denied being a “never Trumper” there is no evidence that he has signed onto letters objecting to Mr. Trump.
The Trump administration has yet to nominate a new ambassador to Ukraine. Kristina Kvien, the deputy chief of mission, will be the most senior U.S. Embassy official after Mr. Taylor leaves.
Two Giuliani Associates Used Washington Connections to Chase Ukraine Gas Deal
Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman leveraged ties to seek a natural gas deal with Naftogaz.
Last fall, as Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas barnstormed Ukraine on behalf of President Trump’s personal lawyer, cajoling officials to investigate Joe Biden and his son, the two Florida businessmen were also pursuing a side effort to cash in on the country’s dire need for natural gas.
The men had no experience in the energy sector—Mr. Fruman had run a beach bar in Odessa and an import-export operation, while Mr. Parnas had left a trail of foundering businesses. But with the Trump administration pushing to export U.S. natural gas, Messrs. Parnas and Fruman sensed an opportunity to leverage their connections to the president’s attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and other power brokers in the U.S. and Ukraine.
So, toward the end of 2018, Mr. Fruman reached out to Andrew Favorov, an old social acquaintance who had recently been named to a top job at Naftogaz, Ukraine’s state oil-and-gas company.
In subsequent months, Messrs. Fruman and Parnas repeatedly told Mr. Favorov they had access to Mr. Trump, and pressed him to cut them in on a gas deal. In one encounter, at the Trump International Hotel in Washington this May, Mr. Fruman asked Mr. Favorov to sign an agreement authorizing the two Florida businessmen to broker sales of U.S. liquefied natural gas, or LNG, on the company’s behalf.
The pair’s unsuccessful pursuit of an LNG deal, details of which are described here for the first time, played on acute vulnerabilities in Ukraine: a looming threat from Russia, fragile anticorruption efforts, domestic political tensions and dependence on U.S. financial and political support.
The efforts came at the same time they were assisting Mr. Giuliani in his efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter. Both have denied wrongdoing. That campaign is now at the center of the impeachment case against Mr. Trump.
A White House spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment. Mr. Trump said of Messrs. Fruman and Parnas, after their October arrest: “I don’t know those gentlemen.”
Messrs. Parnas and Fruman’s dealings with Naftogaz are under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in New York as part of a wide-ranging investigation into the Florida businessmen, Mr. Giuliani, and their business and political endeavors. Messrs. Parnas and Fruman have pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from alleged efforts to funnel foreign money into U.S. elections and to influence U.S. politics on behalf of at least one Ukrainian politician.
Mr. Favorov, a dual U.S.-Russian citizen who heads Naftogaz’s integrated gas business, and Naftogaz chief executive Andriy Kobolyev spoke voluntarily with U.S. prosecutors in recent weeks. The two declined to comment on these discussions.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan declined to comment.
A lawyer for Mr. Giuliani said his client “had absolutely nothing to do with Naftogaz and is unaware of anything that Parnas or Fruman had to do with Naftogaz.”
People familiar with Messrs. Parnas and Fruman described a slapdash but persistent pitch on the coattails of U.S. energy diplomacy. When Mr. Fruman first got in touch, Mr. Favorov said he blew him off. He knew Mr. Fruman from nights out in Odessa—“a good guy to do shots with”—not as an energy businessman, Mr. Favorov said.
Still, Mr. Favorov said he had heard Mr. Fruman was making a name for himself in Florida Republican politics, and agreed to meet him in March, in a hotel lobby on the sidelines of an energy conference in Houston.
At the time, the situation at Naftogaz, which represents about 10% of Ukraine’s economic activity, was “pretty dire,” Mr. Favorov said. Ukraine’s government had drained Naftogaz’s cash reserves and Mr. Kobolyev was facing criticism over his efforts to overhaul the company, which had long been plagued by corruption.
On the horizon were two major threats. A gas-transit agreement with Russia was due to expire by the end of 2019, potentially leaving parts of Ukraine without heat, and Moscow was advancing plans for a European pipeline that would circumvent Ukraine, depriving Kyiv of billions of dollars in transfer fees. (The gas-transit deal has since been renewed.)
Mr. Favorov arrived in Houston eager to bring U.S. LNG to Ukraine. His goal was aligned with the goals of the Trump administration.
U.S. natural gas has been held up in Eastern Europe as an alternative to Russian gas, which Moscow often wields as a political cudgel. Driven by the shale boom, the U.S. has become the world’s largest natural-gas producer and third-largest exporter of LNG, which is super-chilled to a liquid state and loaded onto ships.
Under former Secretary Rick Perry, the Energy Department encouraged overseas sales of LNG, which it dubbed “freedom gas.” Poland, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Ukraine have purchased cargoes.
In the hotel lobby in Houston, Mr. Fruman was accompanied by Mr. Parnas and Harry Sargeant, a Florida energy tycoon who Mr. Favorov said gave the men credibility.
Mr. Sargeant and Mr. Favorov discussed natural gas markets and logistical hurdles to Ukraine importing U.S. LNG, including a pipeline from Poland that needed to be expanded.
The conversation took an unexpected turn, Mr. Favorov said, after Mr. Sargeant stepped away.
Messrs. Fruman and Parnas touted their U.S. political connections, showing off photographs with Messrs. Trump and Giuliani. Mr. Favorov says Mr. Parnas told him: “We meet with [Mr. Trump] in his property in Florida. We meet with him in the White House. And you know my buddy, my close friend Rudy, he talks to him every day.”
In that March conversation, Messrs. Fruman and Parnas described their interest in brokering an LNG deal with Ukraine. They told him that then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch would soon be removed, as would Mr. Kobolyev. They asked if Mr. Favorov wanted to be “our guy” at Naftogaz.
Mr. Favorov says he was shocked. Mr. Kobolyev was his friend, under whose leadership Naftogaz had launched corruption and compliance efforts with the support of Ms. Yovanovitch.
Back in his hotel room, Mr. Favorov called Mr. Kobolyev. He later declined their offer, and dismissed the pitch as hapless opportunism.
On April 21, Volodymyr Zelensky won a landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election. His election upended the status quo in Kyiv—among other matters, Mr. Zelensky sought an overhaul of the energy sector. His government says it wants to speed up the process of splitting Naftogaz into multiple companies, something demanded by Western partners to create a more competitive market.
In early May, Naftogaz executives and Ukrainian officials, including Mr. Favorov, traveled to Washington, seeking money and political support. They were met with skepticism by Energy Department officials and others, and didn’t land $2 billion in funding they sought.
While Mr. Favorov was in Washington, Messrs. Fruman and Parnas proposed meeting for drinks at the Trump International Hotel. Mr. Favorov brought his girlfriend and Mr. Kobolyev; Messrs. Fruman and Parnas were joined by Tommy Hicks Jr. , a Texas investor and co-chair of the Republican National Committee, and Jeff Miller, a GOP strategist who ran Mr. Perry’s 2016 presidential campaign.
The men smoked cigars in a small outdoor area, where Messrs. Fruman and Parnas again brought up their close ties to Mr. Giuliani and touted Mr. Hicks’s closeness to Mr. Trump. Again, they pushed for part of a Naftogaz deal. Mr. Fruman told Mr. Favorov he wanted a memorandum of understanding from Naftogaz that would authorize him and Mr. Parnas to cut LNG deals on the company’s behalf. Mr. Favorov said no, according to a person familiar with the encounter.
Mr. Miller had met Messrs. Parnas and Fruman previously, but didn’t know the pair well and didn’t linger at the gathering, said a person familiar with the matter. Mr. Hicks didn’t respond to requests for comment.
After Washington, Mr. Favorov and his girlfriend went on vacation to California’s Pacific Coast Highway. On May 6, somewhere on the edge of Big Sur, a message came in from Mr. Fruman: Ms. Yovanovitch had been fired.
The prediction had come true. Mr. Favorov thought to himself, “I’m in the s— now.”
Messrs. Fruman and Parnas spent the spring and summer meeting Ukrainian officials and energy executives, saying they could guarantee a large shipment of U.S. LNG through an expanded Poland pipeline, according to a person briefed on some of their meetings.
In 2018, the two men had started an energy company—Global Energy Partners, sometimes referred to as Global Energy Producers, or GEP. Federal prosecutors subsequently alleged Messrs. Fruman and Parnas improperly listed the company as the source of a $325,000 contribution in May 2018 to a Trump-connected political organization, even though GEP hadn’t made any energy deals.
In a one-page pitch circulated earlier this year, titled “GEP Strategy for Eastern-Europe,” Mr. Parnas said the company aimed to become the largest LNG exporter in the U.S.
One draft of a proposed GEP agreement, which was described to the Journal by a person familiar with the proposal, mentioned working with Mr. Sargeant. A spokesman for Mr. Sargeant said he was unaware of such a proposal.
Naftogaz didn’t sign an agreement with Messrs. Parnas and Fruman. It has gas marketing contracts with Mr. Favorov’s former company, which has drawn accusations of conflicts of interest. An April 2019 audit by KPMG Advisory GmbH cleared Mr. Favorov of any wrongdoing and said that his former company received no preferential treatment. Mr. Favorov said he has sold his stake.
New Documents From Giuliani Associate Parnas Submitted for Impeachment Trial
Giuliani asked to meet Ukrainian leader with Trump’s ‘knowledge and consent’; texts indicate tracking of ambassador.
New documents in the impeachment probe into President Trump show that his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani asked for a meeting with the Ukrainian president with Mr. Trump’s “knowledge and consent” and that one of Mr. Giuliani’s associates was sent text messages about tracking the U.S. ambassador’s movements in the country.
House Democrats on Tuesday released the documents, aiming to incorporate them into the House record in time for the start of the Senate’s impeachment trial.
The documentation, some of which was kept confidential to protect personally sensitive information, includes text messages from Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Mr. Giuliani. Among the material that Mr. Parnas provided to the House Intelligence Committee was a screenshot of a previously undisclosed May 10 letter from Mr. Giuliani to Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky. In the letter, Mr. Giuliani sought a meeting with Mr. Zelensky that would take “no more than a half-hour of your time.”
Mr. Giuliani didn’t say in the letter why he sought the meeting with Ukraine’s president, but he had already said on Fox News that he wanted information about Joe Biden, his client’s potential 2020 election rival, part of the effort that later in the year sparked the impeachment inquiry of Mr. Trump.
Mr. Zelensky didn’t end up taking the meeting, fearful of getting sucked into a U.S. political drama.
Mr. Parnas was arrested in October on campaign-finance charges along with his associate, Igor Fruman, both of whom have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The two men for months assisted Mr. Giuliani in his push for investigations in Ukraine. In recent days, a lawyer for Mr. Parnas said he turned over to the Intelligence Committee a trove of messages from Mr. Parnas’s cellphones. The White House didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The communications also included messages that mentioned the then-ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, whom Mr. Trump later fired. In his July phone call with Ukraine’s president, after she had been removed from her post, Mr. Trump described her as “bad news” and said she would “go through some things.” Ms. Yovanovitch later testified that she felt threatened by the disparaging comments from the president and was alarmed by the State Department’s failure to defend her.
In the documents released Tuesday, Robert F. Hyde, a congressional candidate in Connecticut, told Mr. Parnas in a March text message that he couldn’t believe that Mr. Trump “hasn’t fired this bitch.” Mr. Hyde also texted messages about Ms. Yovanovitch’s movements, sending texts such as “they will let me know when she’s on the move” and adding that “They are willing to help if we/you would like to pay a price” and “Guess you can do anything in Ukraine with the money.” Later, he said, “if you want her out they need to make contact with security forces.”
Ms. Yovanovitch’s lawyer, Lawrence Robbins, called for an investigation into whether the diplomat was being tracked.
“Needless to say, the notion that American citizens and others were monitoring Ambassador Yovanovitch’s movements for unknown purposes is disturbing,” Ms. Yovanovitch’s lawyer said in a statement. “We trust that the appropriate authorities will conduct an investigation to determine what happened.”
Mr. Hyde, in a series of tweets Tuesday, said he welcomed an investigation. He said he was never in Kyiv, and called it “definitely laughable” that Democrats were using “some texts my buddy’s and I wrote back to some dweeb we were playing with that we met a few times while we had a few drinks.”
The texts show Mr. Parnas also communicated with numerous Ukrainian officials, including Yuri Lutsenko, months before Ukraine’s new regime ousted him as prosecutor general. Mr. Lutsenko, who was widely viewed as corrupt by Western diplomats, complained about Ms. Yovanovitch, the texts show, while also offering Mr. Parnas information about the Bidens.
The Democratic-led House last month voted to impeach Mr. Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The articles of impeachment accuse him of pressuring Ukraine to open investigations that would benefit him politically. Mr. Trump has said he did nothing wrong.
“These documents—and those recently released pursuant to Freedom of Information Act—demonstrate that there is more evidence relevant to the President’s scheme, but they have been concealed by the President himself,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) and other Democratic chairmen of the committees that ran the impeachment probe wrote in a letter. “All of this new evidence confirms what we already know: the President and his associates pressured Ukrainian officials to announce investigations that would benefit the President politically. There cannot be a full and fair trial in the Senate without the documents that President Trump is refusing to provide to Congress.”
The House is expected to vote Wednesday to transmit the obstruction-of-Congress and abuse-of-power impeachment articles to the Senate, which is expected to begin a trial next week after taking ceremonial steps such as swearing in senators as jurors.
Mr. Parnas also turned over notes that were handwritten on stationery from a Vienna hotel in which he wrote, “get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will Be Investigated,” incorporating misspellings into his notes, the committees said. That refers to the probe Mr. Trump had asked Ukraine’s leader to announce into an energy company that Mr. Biden’s son Hunter Biden had been associated with. Both Bidens deny any wrongdoing.
Mr. Parnas took those notes following a phone conversation with Mr. Giuliani in June, weeks after Mr. Zelensky’s inauguration, according to his lawyer, Joseph Bondy. The previous month, Mr. Parnas had met with Serhiy Shefir, a top adviser to Mr. Zelensky, in Kyiv.
The communications were made via encrypted messaging applications, particularly WhatsApp, the committees said, and included conversations that often took place in Russian with senior Ukrainian officials in 2019. The communications “demonstrate that Mr. Parnas served as a direct channel between President Trump’s agent, Mr. Giuliani, and individuals close to President Volodymyr Zelensky,” the committees said.
Mr. Giuliani, asked about that conversation, said in a text message: “I was pursuing evidence in my role as private counsel defending my client.” Asked whether he recalled the conversation in June, he said: “By that time meeting with Zelensky was off the table but it would have been for same purpose.” He added of Mr. Parnas: “I dispute anything his lawyer says.”
Indicted Giuliani Associate Parnas Says Trump Ordered Ukraine Ambassador’s Firing Several Times Before Recall
Trump “fired her probably, at least — to my knowledge — at least four, five times,” Parnas said, referring to former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.
Lev Parnas, the indicted associate of Rudy Giuliani, claimed in an interview that aired Thursday that President Donald Trump ordered the firing of U.S. ambassador to Ukraine several times before her recall was publicly announced in April.
“He fired her probably, at — to my knowledge — at least four or five times,” Parnas said in the second part of an interview on MSNBC’s “The Rachel Maddow Show.” Parnas and another man have been charged with allegedly funneling money from foreign entities to U.S. candidates in a scheme to buy political influence.
Parnas said Trump once tried to fire Yovanovitch at a dinner in a private area of a Trump hotel.
“I don’t know how the issue is — the conversation came up, but I do remember me telling the president that the ambassador was badmouthing him and saying he was going to get impeached. Something to that effect,” Parnas told Maddow.
“And at that point he turned around to John DeStefano, who was his aide at the time, and said, ‘fire her.’ And we all, there was silence in the room,” Parnas said.
He said DeStefano replied it couldn’t happen at the time because Mike Pompeo had not yet been confirmed as secretary of state. “I don’t know how many times at that dinner, once or twice or three times, but he fired her several times at that dinner,” Parnas said, speaking of Trump.
Yovanovitch, who has been lauded for anti-corruption work, was allegedly targeted for removal by a campaign led by Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney.
“He even had a breakdown and screamed, ‘fire her!'” to another assistant, Parnas claimed, and the assistant replied, “Mr. President, I can’t do that.” Parnas said Trump was directing the State Department to fire Yovanovitch, and the department was refusing to do it.
The effort to oust Yovanovitch is part of the allegations against Trump that led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives, and Yovanovitch testified in the impeachment inquiry.
Trump, in a reconstruction of a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy released by the White House, said of Yovanovitch, “she’s going to go through some things.”
In that call Trump and Zelenskiy discussed military aid to Ukraine and Trump asked for a “favor” and appeared to call for an investigation by Ukraine into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who had been hired to the board of Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Giuliani said in interviews last month that Yovanovitch was an obstacle to getting Ukraine to announce the investigations he said Trump desired. He later walked it back, tweeting that she “needed to be removed for many reasons.”
The impeachment articles in part allege that Trump held up congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine as leverage to get the Ukrainians to announce investigations into the Bidens, in an attempt to abuse the power of the presidency for his personal political gain in the 2020 election.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in a decision released Thursday that the Trump administration violated the law by withholding military aid to Ukraine.
Yovanovitch told House investigators her reputation was smeared by Giuliani, who seized on Ukrainian disinformation about her allegedly badmouthing the president, that she was blocking corruption investigations by circulating a “do not prosecute” list and stymying investigations into the Bidens.
She denied all the allegations under oath, and her colleagues have testified she was the victim of disinformation tactics that had been used on U.S. officials for years.
Parnas, in the first part of the interview that aired Wednesday, claimed “President Trump knew exactly what was going on” in Ukraine and that Trump “was aware of all my movements” and that “I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani or the president.”
Parnas also said the effort to have the Ukrainians announce investigations was “all about” the Bidens and “never about corruption.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, in a statement Thursday, cast doubt on Parnas’ credibility.
“These allegations are being made by a man who is currently out on bail for federal crimes and is desperate to reduce his exposure to prison,” Grisham said.
Parnas also claimed that Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General William Barr were “in the loop” on the Ukraine effort and that Trump ordered Pence not to attend Zelenskiy’s inauguration in May because the investigations Trump wanted had not been announced.
A spokeswoman for the Justice Department said of Parnas’ claims about Barr: “100 percent false.”
Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, said Thursday that “Democrat witnesses have testified under oath in direct contradiction to Lev Parnas’ statements last night.”
“This is very simple: Lev Parnas is under a multi-count indictment and will say anything to anybody who will listen in hopes of staying out of prison,” Short said. “It’s no surprise that only the liberal media is listening to him.”
Giuliani denied to the show Wednesday that he told Ukrainian officials Parnas spoke on behalf of Trump. When asked if Parnas was lying, Giuliani said, “All I can say is the truth.”
When the Department of Justice announced charges against Parnas and another man, Igor Fruman, in October, it said the pair could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted.
Federal prosecutors in December argued Parnas was untruthful with Justice Department officials and concealed assets, including $1 million from a Russian oligarch with ties to Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, in an attempt to have his bail revoked. Parnas was allowed to remain free on bail.
Trump has defended his July phone call with Zelenskiy as “perfect” and said he did nothing wrong. Trump tweeted Thursday “I JUST GOT IMPEACHED FOR MAKING A PERFECT PHONE CALL!”
The House voted on Wednesday to send the impeachment articles to the Senate, which will hold a trial, and the senators were sworn in Thursday by Chief Justice John Roberts. The two articles of impeachment allege abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Parnas, in the portion of the interview that aired Thursday, said he had conversations with Trump attorney Jay Sekulow, who was aware of the alleged effort to get Ukraine to announce investigations.
Parnas said Sekulow was “in the loop” and that Parnas was a witness to conversations.
He said Sekulow “didn’t agree with what Rudy was doing, but he knew what he was doing” because “I heard him talk about it.”
“He didn’t want to be involved in the Ukraine stuff,” Parnas claimed of Sekulow.
Sekulow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Then former Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s name emerged as a figure in the impeachment inquiry. A State Department official who had been interviewed by House Democrats investigating the matter has said Perry was part of a trio who called themselves “the three amigos” and appointed by acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to spearhead Trump’s efforts in Ukraine.
Parnas said he never interacted with Perry, but Perry called Giuliani when Perry was headed to Ukraine to attend the inauguration, and Giuliani told Perry to get an investigation announced.
Perry has denied playing any role in the alleged scheme.
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